King Con guides Gavin's Dublin to seventh heaven
Dublin 2-23 Kildare 1-17 Leinster SFC final
Little bits of history were made all around Croke Park yesterday but still there was a very routine feel to it all.
Dublin became the first team to win seven Leinster titles in a row, eclipsing even the efforts of Kevin Heffernan's men from 1974-'79 and the Wexford side from the early part of the last century.
There was an individual milestone too. Stephen Cluxton moved to the joint-top of the championship appearances charts. The Parnells man joins the ó Sé brothers, Tomás and Marc, on 88 but leaving Croke Park yesterday, there was little sense of it being a red-letter day. There can be no doubting the greatness of this Dublin side in amassing Leinster titles, but there has been precious little resistance from the rest of the province for part of this run. At the start of business yesterday, these were the only two Leinster sides left standing in the championship.
Kildare were billed as having the tools to cause Dublin more trouble than they had faced in the province in recent years and they started well.
Afterwards, Kildare manager Cian O'Neill pointed out that only two of his side had ever been part of a Leinster senior final but they settled quickly with Daniel Flynn landing the first score of the day.
O'Neill insisted afterwards that his side believed they could win but to do so they would need to take almost every chance that came their way. Tommy Moolick forced a goal chance in the second minute. His physical presence on the edge of the square opened the door but he was off balance when he pulled the trigger and his effort was tame. Cathal McNally followed up but there was enough Dublin bodies back at that point to snuff out the chance.
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Dublin would take over from there and Kildare wouldn't score for the next 20 minutes including two goals inside 90 seconds. First, Dean Rock netted on 11 minutes with a neat finish after he was put clear by Ciarán Kilkenny. And with Kildare still reeling from the concession of that goal, James McCarthy took advantage of some poor defending to roll his shot under Mark Donnellan.
Dublin were eight points up after just 12 minutes and it looked like things could get ugly for Kildare as the champions started to flex their muscle. They went nine clear after 18 minutes after a particularly demoralising exchange for Kildare.
James McCarthy hit Flynn a thunderous shoulder as he tried to run through the heart of the Dublin defence. From the turnover, Dublin stretched their lead further through Con O'Callaghan.
The Cuala youngster had made a bright start to the game but he was about to become much more central. Rock was black-carded after 24 minutes for a pull on Mick O'Grady, meaning the place kicking duties fell to O'Callaghan. It was just his third start in the championship but he didn't shirk the responsibility and would finish the day with 12 points to his name, split evenly between placed balls and open play.
Gavin had no doubt the youngster, who led Dublin to an All-Ireland U-21 title earlier this year, would be up to the task.
"First thing I would say is he's part of a team and he played his part today," said the Dublin boss.
"He comes from a really solid background. His club Cuala have done tremendous work in that part of the county for Gaelic games in the last number of years and Con has been fortunate to be surrounded by some great coaches and great family as well.
"Within Dublin GAA he's been developed by the development squads and by U-18 and U-21 coaches and managers, so that's been a big influence on him. He played his part. That's probably what we see in training as well."
Rock's dismissal also saw Dublin introduce Bernard Brogan. He hardly put a foot wrong and would kick five points before the day was out.
Despite the concession of the two quick-fire goals, Kildare would steady the ship. Aided by some poor wides from Brian Fenton and Kilkenny, they'd chip away at Dublin's lead. In the final 15 minutes they outscored the reigning champions by 0-9 to four points.
At this stage Keith Cribbin was imposing his will on things from half-back. Kevin Feely was in fine fetching form at midfield and he steered over the last point of the half from just shy of 45 metres to see his side go in at the break trailing by 2-8 to 0-10.
Kildare needed a bright start but Dublin had the lead out to six shortly after the restart. But there were signs that Kildare could hurt Dublin when some good handling set Niall Kelly up for a point.
However, the game took a significant turn away from the underdogs on 43 minutes. David Slattery's fine run helped put Flynn clear. The Johnstownbridge man had a clear run on Stephen Cluxton's goal but his shot was tame and Cluxton made the stop.
It felt like a big moment and so it proved. Four minutes after Flynn's chance, Dublin had stretched the lead to nine with the final 20 minutes amounting to little more than window dressing.
Feely, who was Kildare's best player, didn't finish the game after picking up a black card. There was some consolation for the Lilies with Paddy Brophy's late goal after he outfielded Mick Fitzsimons and rammed home from close range.
Dublin also had the ball in the net late on but referee Anthony Nolan had pulled play back for a foul before Paul Mannion forced the ball to the net. O'Callaghan would convert the free and bring his tally to 12. It was fitting that he would have the final say as Dublin collected their seventh title on the bounce.
It was Cluxton's 13th winner's medal. Dublin had made history but Gavin was typically unmoved. Their eyes are on much bigger things this summer.
"On the historic nature of it, I think when the guys look back on their careers and probably for Pat Gilroy, who came before me, and his group of players that are no longer with us, they'll take some satisfaction. But for the current team it's about being present in 2017 and provincial titles mean a lot to us. We'll certainly celebrate it with our family and friends, that's for sure.
"And then we'll move on to the next challenge ahead."
Scorers - Dublin: C O'Callaghan 0-12 (6f), B Brogan 0-5, D Rock, J McCarthy 1-0 each, C Kilkenny 0-2, S Carthy, B Howard, P Mannion, P Andrews 0-1 each. Kildare: P Brophy 1-3 (1f), K Feely 0-5 (4f), D Flynn, C McNally 0-2 each, N Kelly, F Dowling, D Slattery, K Cribbin J Byrne 0-1.
Dublin - S Cluxton 8; P McMahon 7, C O'Sullivan 6, M Fitzsimons 7; E Lowndes 6, J Small 7, J McCaffrey 7; B Fenton 7, J McCarthy 8; C O'Callaghan 9, C Kilkenny 8, N Scully 6; P Mannion 7, P Andrews 7, D Rock 6. Subs: B Brogan 8 for Rock (BC, 25), S Carthy 7 for Scully (47), D Daly 6 for McMahon (49), K McManamon 6 for Andrews (52), D Byrne 6 for O'Sullivan (59), B Howard for Fenton (67).
Kildare - M Donnellan 7; M O'Grady 6, D Hyland 6, O Lyons 6; J Byrne 6, E Doyle 6, K Cribbin 7; K Feely 8, T Moolick 6; F Conway 6, N Kelly 6, D Slattery 6; P Brophy 7, D Flynn 6, C McNally 6 Subs: P Cribbin 6 for Conway (45), F Dowling 6 for Moolick (49), P Kelly 6 for Doyle (52), B McCormack 6 for McNally (57), E Bolton 6 for Byrne (63), E Callaghan for Feely (BC, 64).
Ref - A Nolan (Wicklow)