Warm June rain greeted us as we exited Croke Park yesterday with smiles on the faces of the Royal supporters, in particular. Dublin pelleted over points for fun while both Kildare and Laois squandered some great goal chances. The centurion Cluxton culled the Lillies’ goal efforts and the quality of the forward play and score-taking was exceptional, at times, from all four participating teams.
Two qualities forwards on show. Both with contrasting styles but similar results. James Conlon - the small, nippy snipper bagged himself 5/8 (0-5, one wide and two dropped short). Three points with the right and one chipped over with the left. All five points were similar in distance and style, around the arc and always moving away from the defender. His movement and accuracy were akin to Bernard Flynn a few decades ago. The quality of the supply was top-notch.
Donie Kingston, in contrast, glided around the pitch like a heavyweight boxer, determined to land knock-out Royal blows. He kicked 4/5 (two from play, two frees and a missed free). He caught kick-outs, directly-assisted in Laois scores and set up Kieran Lillis with a glorious chance of a goal. Donie always makes space easily for himself with his nifty footwork. He produced one of his sidesteps and eloquent swivels to set up his own goal attempt which resulted in a wonderful save from Andrew Colgan. Top marks for both forwards.
Dublin and Laois both went with a triangular forward ploy for their first-halves. Dublin had Con O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion on the inside with Cormac Costello on the tip while Laois had Evan O’Carroll and Colm Murphy on the inside with Paul Kingston operating outside them. Laois scored 0-7 with this first-half formation while Dublin scored 0-11 with theirs. The difference between the teams? Dublin had multiple runners coming through at different angles every time they attacked.
They always looked like scoring.
However, they only created two clear-cut goal chances – Brian Fenton in the first few minutes and Cormac Costello in the final few. In contrast, the Laois players only supported their inside players sporadically. This also happened Laois in last year’s Leinster final, so it was surprising to see that nothing has changed in 12 months. Also surprised to see Evan O’Carroll being called ashore after 30 minutes. The Crettyard forward was having a great battle with Conor McGill. Granted his radar was off in the opening exchanges (0-3 frees, four wides, and one dropped short). But he’s a quality forward. Switching O’Carroll out to centre-forward would have allowed Laois to still introduce Donie Kingston and keep a dangerous attacker on the pitch. The influential Meath centre-back Donal Keogan might have been less inclined to roam forward with O’Carroll to contend with.
Meath and Kildare both seem to go with a two-man full-forward line. Mickey Newman and the aforementioned DIT student James Conlon for the Royals while the Lilywhites opted for Ben McCormack and Adam Tyrell.
Both teams got great joy from this strategy.
The Kildare inside duo looked really threatening when they were one-on-one with their respective markers, Fitzsimons and O’Sullivan, but only when the ball was delivered first-time. The problem for Kildare was that they slowed down their approach play, too frequently, with lateral passing. You cannot allow this Dublin team time to reset
their defence. They will gobble you up and counter-attack with a score a few seconds later. Meath were far cuter with their inside duo and always had two or three support runners
coming to support their inside forwards.
All four sets of defenders produced quality tackles. Laois gave away no scoreable frees to Meath in the first-half only for their copybook to be blotted in additional-time with a soft penalty. They only conceded four frees in the second half but only one was scored by Mickey Newman. In contrast, Meath conceded eight scoreable frees to Laois in the semi-final. Laois took five of these chances. Meath will aim to reduce these free shots to Cormac Costello in the Leinster final. The Kildare defence only coughed up two scoreable frees to Costello. He duly converted both. For the majority of the game, the Kildare players backed off the Dubs and couldn’t or didn’t want to get a tackle in. They retreated around the ‘D’ and allowed Dublin pot-shots from 25-35 metres out. Dublin don’t miss these. The Dublin defence was equally mean in conceding scoreable frees. Only four given away but they’ll forensically examine the DVD to prevent the goalscoring opportunities they’re giving teams.
Both Louth and Kildare could have bagged a brace of goals apiece.
Meath coughed up lots of goal chances which Laois couldn’t take. Dublin coughed up several goal chances which Kildare couldn’t take. Which team will learn the most and execute accordingly? Let’s hope for a competitive game at least.