Dublin playing the generation game to perfection

Time was long up on Kildare in the 70th minute but Bernard Brogan wasn’t in the mood to relent. His sprint from his full-forward berth in the direction of the Hogan Stand tunnel was noticed by Stephen Cluxton and within seconds the evergreen pair had combined to make a mark.

Introduced in the 25th minute as a black card replacement for Dean Rock, it wasn’t as if Brogan had the benefit of freshness but he couldn’t have looked more determined to finish out the game as he started it when he sent over two first-half points.

Claiming that ball just metres away from Jim Gavin, he seemed intent on showing his manager up close the folly of keeping him on the bench thus far this summer. There was a point to prove as there was to the pundits who queued to write him off following his disappointing Division 1 final performance. And then there was the fact that his direct marker, Ollie Lyons, had success in shackling him in previous outings. Not here. All five shots Brogan had at goal, he converted. For a man told he was finished, he finished everything.

Con O’Callaghan, his touted heir, ended up scoring one more from play than him and there was an opportunity or two towards the end where Brogan may have fancied his chances of matching the young bull. Instead, he showed restraint, played the percentages and passed the ball onto team-mates in better situations.

If Gavin hoped to bring the best out of Brogan by making the 33-year-old angry, he’s succeeded. “The way we look at it is whatever part a player is asked to play, whether that’s finishing the game or starting the game, to me and my management and to the players themselves, it’s pretty irrelevant,” he explained. “I do understand that every player wants to get game-time. They train so hard to be on the pitch and represent the jersey and there are five players there today who didn’t get game-time and they’ll be disappointed as well but I know full well when we go back next week, they’ll be pushing hard to get game-time and pushing hard to push the squad on.

“But from Bernard’s perspective he did very well today and again that’s what we’re seeing in training and he’s playing his part very well.”

From their favoured right boots as well as their left,
Brogan and O’Callaghan split both sets of posts in a fascinatingly impressive display that will not debunk the theory that Brogan is a spent force but the theory that the pair are too similar and can’t play alongside each other. O’Callaghan showed his adaptability on the half-forward line and he, like Brogan, seized the opportunity caused by Rock’s difficulty, converting half a dozen frees.

Against Ulster opposition the next day, Gavin may choose to keep Brogan in
reserve once more but for all the chatter of Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue being Gaelic football’s most irresistible force, this Dublin duo, regardless of the 12 years between them, are just as capable of owning this championship.

N

aturally, Gavin wasn’t going to talk up his young star. “First thing I would say is he’s part of a team and he played his part today. He comes from a really solid background. His club, Cuala, have done tremendous work in that part of the county for Gaelic games the last number of years and Con has been
fortunate to be surrounded by some great coaches. In Dublin GAA, he’s been developed by the development squads, by the U18 and U21 coaches and managers so that’s been a big influence on him. Yeah, he played his part and it’s probably what we see in training as well.”

O’Callaghan was still in primary school when Brogan made his Dublin debut. When Cluxton made his back in 2001, he was in junior infants. Yesterday, the Gaelic football goalkeeper of all goalkeepers extended his 100% record as Dublin captain in Leinster to 15 games, collecting his 12th winning medal in his 14th final. He played his part too, denying Daniel Flynn a goal in the 42nd minute. After a stunning run by David Slattery teed Flynn up, his shot was admittedly poor, Cluxton only having to keep his right hand strong, but it was required and was met with chants of
“Stepho” by a grateful Hill 16.

On the afternoon he joined Marc and Tomás Ó Sé as joint record holder for the number of championship appearances with 88, it was an appropriate intervention. Even Gavin, not one for heaping too much praise on players, was appreciative. “Influence, that’s what good leadership is and I think that what he brings to the football team. He’s selfless, determined, very ambitious and has a great passion for Gaelic games, and is a great credit to his family, Parnells his club and we’re really lucky to have him in Dublin GAA. Really lucky. Just his application and how he works at his game continuously is a great example not just for the younger players coming into the squad but for the older members and for the
management team as well.”

Cluxton was typically low-key in his acceptance speech. Mention was given to Dublin welcoming more away trips like their visit to O’Moore Park where they beat Carlow in June although that seemed more a tongue-in-cheek dig at critics of their familiarity with Croke Park, which should be their home for the remainder of their campaign. As you do, the 35-year-old also credited Kildare and the hope of seeing them progress. Not since 2009 have Leinster runners-up won their subsequent qualifier. Most of them have been so scarred by Dublin that they haven’t been able to muster a fight but there was no killer blow landed on Kildare yesterday. Yes, Paddy Brophy’s goal ensured the margin was in single digits and Paul Mannion was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out late on for a Dublin free but there are
reasons to be cheerful.

Kevin Feely’s fetches were acts of beauty and Kildare will do their damnedest to appeal one of the three black cards
he has accumulated that now threatens to rule him out of Saturday week’s fourth round clash. Flynn was exquisite on occasions, his 33rd-minute point under the Hogan Stand a masterful strike, and Brophy is only getting better the more football he plays after his Australian experience.

Eoin Doyle’s broken thumb is a worry but there is plenty left in Kildare to make the last eight. Cian O’Neill, when he digests this setback, will realise that too. “I think experience is immeasurable and I think the experience that the lads have gained this year, a lot of them playing in the senior setup for the first time, some of them only for their second or third year,” he remarked before adding, “Not one of that starting 15 were ever in a Leinster final before. Only two players on our panel had ever been involved in them. Dublin were playing in Croke Park where they obviously play most of their matches and have multiple All-Ireland winners so there is that significant gulf between the experience side of things as well.”

Dublin will be thankful to Kildare for at least presenting them with an examination even if it resembled more of a mock test.

Old hat for Brogan and Cluxton, new horizons for O’Callaghan. The young and the old, the great and the bold.

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