Wednesday 19 June 2019

Paul Curran: 'If Meath go defensive against Dublin, they won’t be able to keep losing margin to single digits'

Meath manager Andy McEntee. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Meath manager Andy McEntee. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Paul Curran

Dublin skipped over hurdle number two without too much trouble and will now face old rivals and nearest neighbours Meath in the provincial final in three week’s time.

It will be the team’s ninth final appearance in as many years, winning the previous eight, and based on yesterday’s performance it will take something special from the Meath men to stop them making it nine in-a-row.

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Croke Park had a very poor attendance for yesterday’s double-header and it must be a real source of concern for the Leinster Council.

Their golden goose that is Dublin is no longer the draw it once was and if the current downward trend in attendances continues, it is hard to see them opening the gates for the early rounds in the coming seasons.

That’s a conversation for another day and it certainly won’t be in the minds of any of the Dublin players as they continue along the pathway to five All-Ireland titles in succession.

It was another business-like performance against Kildare but if one wanted to be picky, one could point to the fact that the Dubs didn’t create a decent goal chance, while their opponents managed to create three clear cut openings.

After a very bright opening ten minutes, and leading by seven points to one, the Dubs were sloppy in possession and wasteful in attack and that allowed Kildare to gain a foothold in the game.

Dublin led by four points at half time and can thank the accuracy of Paul Mannion, Con O’Callaghan, Ciaran Kilkenny and the in-form Cormac Costello, who all kicked brilliant scores.

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It was a first half that Jim Gavin wouldn’t be happy with but there is never any need for panic with this group of players and the half time break is always used as an opportunity to tidy things up, correct the things that need to be corrected and reinforce the message about the things that are working.

The second period was as efficient as it gets from Dublin, as they completely outplayed their opponents.

They are masters at keeping the scoreboard ticking over and before long a four-point half-time lead was extended to eight and the game was essentially up.

That said, Kildare’s Ben McCormack had a glorious goal opportunity in the seventh minute of the second half, when his team were just five points down. A goal at that stage would have certainly given his colleagues and the small Kildare support a huge boost but the miss seemed to signal the end.

Stephen Cluxton was never going to be beaten on his 100th championship appearance and despite that incredible milestone, he is still – by a distance – the best number one in the country.

Everything he did yesterday was top-class and he continues to set the standards for those around him.

He has become the only player in the current squad who is irreplaceable.

Dublin’s forward line continues to impress and to score 26 points in a football match is extremely difficult to do and very impressive. It is a forward line that has great pace and intelligence and despite looking off at times yesterday, the final total is worth noting.

It is hard to see any defence being able to keep th em quiet and the task for Meath is obviously a huge one. Andy McEntee’s team finished well in the opening game but not before a few scares.

Leading by five points at the break, the defensive system was changed.

Three sweepers took up positions in front of the full back line but this only invited Laois on and they sensed that there was an opportunity to get back into the game.

Laois kicked the first two points to reduce the gap to three and then cracked one off the crossbar which would have levelled it.

That miss was the signal for the Royals to push up into a more traditional shape, going man-on-man, and after that Meath kicked on and were able to close out the game.

If a team like Meath go defensive against Dublin, they won’t be able to keep the margin to single digits. A more traditional approach, with plenty of long kicking into Dublin’s full back line, just might be the way to go.

Meath are certainly improving under McEntee and have some very good young footballers. They have an inside line that looks very capable and dangerous and Dublin will be well aware of the challenge in three week’s time.

Let’s hope the Meath supporters come in their numbers for the latest battle between these great rivals. A crowd and an atmosphere like yesterday would be another nail in the provincial championships.

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