Paul Mannion's masterclass restores Crokes to capital supremacy
Kilmacud Crokes 2-12 St Jude's 0-13
Gaelic football really can be a very simple game at times.
That's the only conclusion you could draw from watching the Dublin SFC final in Parnell Park yesterday evening, or more pointedly - Paul Mannion.
Maybe left-footers can sometimes have that impact on you, that sense that they haven't a care in the world when they're on the ball.
Mannion often gives that vibe in a Dublin jersey but for his club he had an air of detachment here that separated him from the rest of the game.
At times it looked like his foot and the ball were connected by an invisible string, such was the control he had over it.
Every touch was a scintillating one as he finished with 1-6, all from play, bringing Crokes back to the top for the first times in eight years.
For a club with its resources, that's a stretch given that they amassed seven titles in 19 years since their first in 1992.
Managed jointly by former players Johnny Magee and Robbie Brennan, they sought to restore some of the club's old attacking values this year and their Dublin forward was central to that.
As elegant as Mannion is as a footballer, he has developed an innate toughness too that makes him very difficult to push off the ball once he plants himself to win possession.
Four times in the first 21 minutes he got out in front of his marker Ciaran Fitzpatrick, the former Kildare defender, before he turned and casually split the posts to give Crokes the early initiative.
When St Jude's threatened twice in the second half at different stages he intervened again with telling scores, most notably a 57th-minute goal after good approach work from the busy Craig Dias at midfield that pushed them five points clear, 2-11 to 0-12.
Arguably his most memorable score was his fifth, just after half-time, which he struck off-balance, under pressure and with his back to goals.
He did it all, Brennan revealed afterwards, carrying an injury related to his back and hamstring.
"He's had a niggle, kind of a back injury, and it flared up there in the first 10 or 15 minutes with the hamstring.
"So he did that on one leg - and you know what he's like on two legs! For him to pull that out of the bag was just... but again, everyone has seen what he's capable of all year."
Crokes' powerful running game surfaced early and allowed them to dominate with Cian O'Connor, Ross McGowan and Cillian O'Shea providing a lively half-back platform.
Jude's just couldn't get Kevin McManamon involved often enough and they struggled for momentum.
Aside from Mannion it was a lifeless game, marked by pedestrian handpassing chains that occasionally blossomed into something more lively.
Crokes led by 0-7 to 0-3 at the break but after that fifth Mannion point, Jude's enjoyed a strong spell with half-backs Tom Lahiff and Chris Guckian, one of their better players, on the mark to reduce the gap to the minimum, 0-8 to 0-7, on 38 minutes.
Almost on cue, as if irritated by this turn of events, Mannion stepped back in, and took a pass from Shane Cunningham to deliver a sixth point.
Jude's kept the pressure on and McManamon did find some form as Niall Coakley kept converting the frees.
But Mannion ended the game as a contest when his low shot beat Liam Mailey.
Significantly, Crokes, who have drawn players from other counties in the past, fielded 15 home-grown starters for this final with Armagh's Kevin Dyas coming off the bench in the second half.
"I'm not necessarily sure it's something we honed in on, I think it's probably just something that's happened through the work that's been done at underage," Brennan added.
"Unless someone comes and lives in the area and is working in the area, we've got so many numbers that it's difficult to look at anyone else coming in."
Kilmacud's opening Leinster match, a quarter-final against Dunboyne, presents a dilemma of sorts for Brennan as he lives in Dunboyne, has managed and played for them in the past, and is a brother-in-law of David Gallagher, a stalwart of the Meath champions.
"Twenty years ago I would have been playing for Kilmacud against Dunboyne (against Gallagher) in the '98 championship and then, in '05, I played for Dunboyne (with Gallagher) against Kilmacud, so it's nearly full circle that we're back again.
"It's very, very close to the bone. We've spoken about it already to the Dunboyne lads and to the family members, for me it's something that... at the start when I knew this could potentially happen I wasn't too overly keen about it, but having spoken to the guys it's something we're going to embrace, win lose or draw, from our side, a personal side of things."
Scorers - Kilmacud Crokes: P Mannion 1-6; P Burke 1-0; C Dias; C O'Connor (1 45) 0-2 each; S Cunningham, C Pearson all 0-1 each. St Jude's: N Coakley 0-4 (4f); P Clarke 0-3 (f); K McManamon 0-2; S Ryan, S Guckian, T Lahiff, T Devlin all 0-1 each.
Kilmacud Crokes - D Nestor; L Flatman, A McGowan, C O'Sullivan; C O'Shea, R McGowan, C O'Connor; C Dias, C Casey; S Horan, S Cunningham, C Pearson; P Mannion, D Mullin, P Burke. Subs: K Dyas for Horan (50), T Fox for Mullin (58), S Williams for Burke (60).
St Jude's - L Mailey; O Manning, C Fitzpatrick, C O'Reilly; T Lahiff, N O'Shea, C Guckian; M Sweeney, S Ryan; K Doherty, S King, R Joyce; N Coakley, K McManamon, P Clarke. Subs: N Mangan for Joyce (37), T Devlin for King (45), B McManamon for Doherty (50), A Sweeney for O'Reilly (60).
Ref - S McCarthy (St Vincent's).