Champions must lift intensity to get better of Meath

Putting All-Ireland titles back to back is not an easy task.

However Pat Gilroy’s Dublin are in a better place to achieve the feat after their dogged victory over Wexford yesterday.

They will have learnt a lot from the game and Gilroy will be in a good position to drive them on at training and at team meetings over the next three weeks before meeting a resurgent Meath in the Leinster final.

A narrow and unimpressive win over Wexford was just what Gilroy would have wanted. He is in the driving seat now, with the ammunition and stats to work his panel hard over the coming weeks. What they produced yesterday will not see off Meath. They need to improve, but I suspect they will.

Guys like Ger Brennan who was subbed before half time, Eamonn Fennell who was gone at the break, and an out of form Bernard Brogan who was replaced by the powerful Eoghan O’Gara, will have to put in two huge weeks in training if they are going to get starting jerseys on July 22.

Genuine competition for places is a great situation for any manager, and Gilroy will have a lot of men champing at the bit to get in his first 15 before they face the Royals.

Dublin found it very difficult to reach the tempo and intensity they had last season in key games, and it took a red card for Diarmuid Connolly (a correct decision for a silly punch on Brian Malone) – before they realised that they needed to roll up their sleeves and make things happen.

After that incident, a few of the Dublin players — Kevin McMenamon (1-3 from play, from four shots over the course of the game), Bryan Cullen, half-time substitute Michael Darragh Macauley, and wing-back Kevin Nolan with two splendid points from play, led their charge into the final.

Their cause was helped in no small measure by Ben Brosnan’s shocking display of place kicking. He scored 0-9 in the decider last year, but he had a nightmare second half yesterday. It was horrific stuff and his string of misses (six wides in the second-half alone) sucked the life out of Wexford’s challenge.

Jason Ryan’s side only hit one point from play in the second half – a fine score by Lee Chin – and they did not score for the last 20 minutes, which is just not good enough at this level.

For Wexford it is the familiar qualifier route, and they may jump a fence or two, but ultimately their lack of scoring support for Shane Roche and Redmond Barry will be their undoing.

So what do Dublin have to do to be ready for Meath in three weeks? First they need to get out of the blocks much faster. They will need to start against Meath with the work-rate, high tempo and support play that they finished with yesterday.

After 20 minutes yesterday they were 1-4 to 0-3 behind, and they looked like a team that were psychologically unprepared for the fray.

Maybe they had believed all the pundits who said they were a “sure-thing” and at 1/10 – it was difficult to insulate themselves from that hype.

Wexford were sweeping men behind the ball to good effect and some of the Dublin shot selection was very poor in the first quarter. They were intent on going for goals and Anthony Masterson thwarted them on a number of occasions with some very good saves. They will have to be more clinical in front of goal, and take the right option when it presents itself. Secondly they will have to match a powerful Meath side in the physical stakes.

Guys like Joe Sheridan, Conor Gillespie, Alan Forde (who had a splendid game), Micky Burke and Graham Reilly really tore into Kildare and the Dublin players will have to be ready for that step up in physicality.

The Meath boys are on the back of four champion games and their younger players like Donal Keoghan, Donnacha Tobin and Damien Carroll impressed yesterday.

It has the makings of a top class Leinster final and while at this juncture, Dublin still look like the more likely victors based on the level they performed at last year, Seamus McEnaney (and John Evans) will be raring to have their boys rip into them.

Just a quick mention of the top class display by Longford on Saturday evening in Pearse Park – they were full value for their win, with Seánie McCormack shooting an incredible 11 points.

Shane Mulligan and Michael Quinn drove them on from the half-back line and very few teams would fancy a trip there in round two. It was a great evening’s entertainment and the atmosphere at the ground was electric. It highlighted once again, the advantages of playing games at smaller venues.

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