In recent times, Louth are always able to raise their game and perform well against Meath but generally fail to bring the same intensity when it comes to playing the Dubs.
And so it was on Saturday.
Louth committed the cardinal sin of letting Dublin off to a good start. Dublin won the throw-in, the first five kick outs, got the first three points and most importantly scored a goal into the Hill on 12 minutes from Eoghan O’Gara.
The same player added a second on just before the break to finish the game as a contest. O’Gara was under pressure to keep his spot after being replaced last week against Armagh after an ineffective first-half. He repaid Pat Gilroy’s faith in him by proving to be an effective target man early on. Dessie Finnegan had a fine Leinster final on the equally strong Joe Sheridan but found O’Gara’s extra mobility too hot to handle.
Louth’s scoring returns had gone back since their brilliant 1-22 against Kildare in early June.
They hit 1-15 against Westmeath and 1-10 in the game with Meath despite an abundance of second half possession. On Saturday that failing returned. It took them 17 minutes to register a score and at half-time they had only three Brian White frees on the board and by full-time the six starting forwards had only mustered two points from play between them.
JP Rooney had a good Leinster final but neither he nor Louth’s other corner-forward, Colm Judge, could make any headway.
In fairness the ball coming in was awful – it was either kicked in very high or else out over the sideline. Shane Lennon was the only one able to win possession and was unlucky with his two point attempts. But the Louth attack was fighting a losing battle throughout against a Dublin full-back line happy to break the ball down to the waiting half-backs and their retreating half-forwards.
A major reason for Dublin’s victory, as it also was when beating Armagh, was the superior upper body strength of their players. Time and time again the Dublin men were able to dispossess Louth players in the tackle, noticeably John O’Brien and goalkeeper Neil Gallagher.
If you don’t have the strength to take on Dublin physically at close quarters then you have to play a game of one-touch football rather than waiting around to invite the tackle or allow them get numbers around you.
Dublin dominated against the much-vaunted Louth midfield pairing winning the kickouts 16-7 in the first-half and 15-9 in the second half with Ross McConnell in particular doing a lot of good work in the air. But again I am amazed that teams playing Dublin keep getting caught out by Stephen Cluxton’s fast restarts.
As I said last week, Dublin need scores from their half-forwards and Bryan Cullen delivered three great points and found the right balance between helping his defence and supporting the full-forward line on Saturday.
The two midfielders and three half-backs contributed two points but that sector of the Tyrone or Kerry teams are able to get four to six points a games. The Brogans between them had 12 point attempts but only returned four scores. Bernard who had accounted for 40% of their championship total before Saturday was entitled to a quiet evening.
His good-form has coincided with Pat Gilroy’s stewardship whereas Alan’s best-form coincided with Paul Caffrey’s reign.
Dublin at this stage look capable of beating any of the teams outside of the big three of Tyrone, Kerry or Cork and this victory probably gives Pat Gilroy job security for another year.
In fairness to Louth their second-half display was much better but the game was over at that stage. Peter Fitzpatrick made some changes with subs Declan Byrne, Darren Clarke and Derek Maguire all getting scores. Michael Fanning switching onto Eoghan O’Gara helped quell the threat of the big man at full forward. Ronan Carroll improved things at midfield where Brian White was strangely subdued. Players like Eamon McAuley, Paddy Keenan, Andy McDonnell and Shane Lennon gave good leadership and Louth managed ten points in the second half.
I am sure Fitzpatrick and his management team will look to improve the team’s physical strength between now and next year’s championship along with securing promotion out of NFL Division Three.