Mannion leads Dubs rout to pour more misery on Leinster
Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin 0-26 Kildare 0-11
This is where the Leinster Football Championship has found itself, the manager of the county with the second largest population in the province, where the All-Ireland U-20 title currently resides, explaining a 15-point defeat to Dublin in the context of it not being "a catastrophe of a performance".
The trouble is Cian O'Neill may have had a point in the aftermath of this routine Leinster semi-final win for the champions. His Kildare team created three gilt-edged goal chances, they turned over possession on Dublin 20 times, two statistics that, had they been presented with them beforehand, would have led to expectations of a much closer game.
But it was never close, it can't be dressed up any other way. It was never even related to close. Whatever has been said about the this particular provincial championship in recent years, repeat it and add a bit more for inflation purposes here.
Dublin are actually becoming more dominant at a time when the chasing pack would have expected to have absorbed the lessons of much earlier in the decade and made the necessary corrections.
Like O'Neill said, Kildare did reasonably well, they had some successes around the field but they were still mauled on the scoreboard, the only metric that really counts when they are all audited.
For sure, it might give them some solace for this morning's second round qualifier draw and when they resume training tomorrow.
But with regard to the Leinster Championship, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the rest. Unless we are all conscripted to go and fight the Scots for Rockall in the next two weeks and the competition is consequently abandoned, Dublin will surely win a record-equalling ninth provincial title in two weeks time!
And next year and the year after? It really doesn't look any different, even if and when Dublin win a fifth successive All-Ireland title to possibly trigger a raft of retirements. The average age of their starting forward line here was just 24.
Credit to them for being able to consistently repeat the trick year after year but the monotony of their dominance was palpable among the 36,126 crowd, where the voices of the protagonists were audible above the chatter of those present. It was slightly above expectation but from where it was just six years ago when three of the four teams involved yesterday were on the programme it is alarming. And it may not have reached a tipping point yet.
Dublin will have a few aspects of their game they will want to clean up ahead of a first Leinster final against Meath in five years.
They only created one goal chance, Cormac Costello's 68th-minute shot drawing a great save from Mark Donnellan at a time when they were already 12 points clear. They kicked 10 wides, and as referenced earlier, coughed up the ball 20 times, most unlike them.
Some of that was down to good Kildare pressure, defenders like Mick O'Grady being able to get his body in to disrupt.
But there was a lethargy too in Dublin's play that inevitably leads to slippage in these situations they continuously find themselves in at this point of the season.
From 0-7 to 0-1 up after 12 minutes, they lost the remainder of the half by 0-6 to 0-4 to lead by 0-11 to 0-7 at the break. It was only a temporary aberration of course.
"You probably can't understand how there can be positives from a 15-point defeat but there actually were in my mind," said O'Neill. "We were six down (but) the way we battled back to four at half-time, and that was with that goal chance (Ben McCormack blocked by Stephen Cluxton in the 24th minute). I mean, full credit to the players because this is a truly outstanding Dublin team playing at home," he said, subtly referencing the venue.
For Cluxton, it was a milestone as he made his 100th championship appearance, the first ever championship centurion, but he had to work hard for a 58th clean sheet, also denying Keith Cribbin in the 50th minute after McCormack, a real livewire in the company of Cian O'Sullivan and Mick Fitzsimons, had slipped going through but recovered to lay on the pass to his colleague.
Dublin successfully challenged Paul Mannion's red card from the Louth match during the week and he responded with seven points, all elegantly executed, while Cormac Costello's fine season continued as he bobbed and weaved his way to nine points, two from frees and two from '45s to make light of Dean Rock's continued absence through injury.
Jonny Cooper was also still missing but that absence is a little more troubling as McCormack picked a steady stream of holes that he wasn't always able to exploit. On the plus side, Davy Byrne had a fine game and one particularly sharp interception on McCormack led to a quick score at the other end from Costello in the 48th minute.
"We got some very good scores from open play which is great to see, interspersed with some loose passages. Ball not going to the Dublin man, that wouldn't be good enough for the next game," said Dublin manager Jim Gavin.
Kildare don't have Paul Cribbin and Kevin Flynn (both injured) as well as Daniel Flynn (unavailable) but O'Neill felt their failure to capitalise on those goal chances was a real missed opportunity.
He also took issue with the slant put on his post-match comments last weekend when he suggested, after the quarter-final replay win over Longford, that they were 'going to beat Dublin', clarifying that they were approaching it with the 'intention' of winning.
"I try to be honest when I answer questions and really what I was saying was, 'We are going up to win the match - we're not going up to accept defeat - and then see where it takes us.' I think anyone who was in the room knows exactly how that was conducted, that interview."
Dublin got some late game-time into Rory O'Carroll and in one play he fought and won a ball from Kildare's Kevin O'Callaghan as if his life depended on it.
It said everything at the end of another dispiriting day for the competitiveness of Leinster football.
Scorers - Dublin: C Costello 0-9 (2fs, 2 '45s); P Mannion 0-7; C O'Callaghan, C Kilkenny 0-3 each; B Fenton 0-2; P Small, B Howard all 0-1 each. Kildare: A Tyrrell 0-4 (1f); B McCormack 0-3; N Flynn (f), K Feely, M O'Grady, D Hyland all 0-1 each.
Dublin - S Cluxton 8; M Fitzsimons 6, C O'Sullivan 6, D Byrne 8; J McCarthy 7, J Small 7, J McCaffrey 7; B Fenton 8, MD Macauley 7; N Scully 7, C Kilkenny 8, B Howard 7; P Mannion 9, C O'Callaghan 8, C Costello 9. Subs: P Small 6 for Macauley (52), P McMahon 6 for O'Sullivan (52), E Murchan for McCaffrey (62), D Gavin for Kilkenny (62), P Andrews for O'Callaghan (64), R O'Carroll for Fitzsimons (65).
Kildare - M Donnellan 8; P Kelly 6, M O'Grady 7, M Dempsey 6; K Cribbin 6, E Doyle 6, D Hyland 6; K Feely 7, T Moolick 5; D Slattery 6, C Healy 6, F Conway 5; A Tyrrell 7, B McCormack 8, N Flynn 5. Subs: K O'Callaghan 6 for Flynn (28), C O'Donoghue 6 for Moolick (56), J Hyland 6 for Healy (58), E O'Flaherty for Cribbin (60), C Hartley for Slattery (67).
Ref - C Lane (Cork)