ANOTHER weekend passes and, with it, another slice of hope that someone, somewhere, sometime may actually give this Dublin team a serious test as they chase a fourth Leinster title in a row.
Westmeath’s stuttering win over Offaly on Saturday night was worrying enough but the ease with which Louth were eventually rolled over yesterday adds to the sense of gloom in the largest of the four green fields.
The pity is that the champions looked vulnerable to a serious examination yesterday hitting eight first half wides and struggling to cast aside the effects of the competitive hiatus since the NFL.
With Ciarán Whelan and Bernard Brogan among the list of four players suspended for this game, the feeling was that Louth could target the Dubs in midfield and at the back where they were perceived to have struggled in recent games.
Louth came into the tie with problems of their own thanks to the injuries to experienced defenders Colin Goss and Peter McGinnity and they struggled up front too, racking up seven wides of their own by the break.
Even still, they came within a whisker of taking a four-point lead 15 minutes in when Ronan Carroll’s speculative fist pass across the Dublin goal was redirected onto his own crossbar by Stephen O’Shaughnessy.
Dublin too had a few sniffs on goal with Paddy Andrews and Alan Brogan seeing efforts saved by goalkeeper Stuart Reynolds but the overall standard rarely rose above mediocre.
The stand-out player in the half was Dublin midfielder Eamonn Fennell who was handed his championship debut thanks to Whelan’s unavailability and the latter was never missed despite the presence of an opponent of Paddy Keenan’s calibre. Four times in the opening period Fennell rose to claim clean catches and — allied to Stephen Cluxton’s varied kicking and Shane Ryan’s quick feet — that ensured Dublin a steady supply of ball all day.
Their forwards eventually began to make use of that rich feed towards the end of the first period with three points in just two minutes, opening up a two-points lead at the interval.
Dublin’s next wide wouldn’t arrive until the 50th minute. By then they would be seven points to the good having found the target on eight consecutive occasions. Louth tried manfully to stay in touch at first with three points to Dublin’s four but their resistance crumbled with the concession of a goal that would rip the heart out of the most lion-hearted of teams.
Mark Stanfield and Conor McGuinness fouled up a simple free inside their own 45-metre line and Dublin fed eagerly on the bounty with a series of hand passes allowing Alan Brogan the simplest of finishes to the net. Aaron Hoey responded with a point but Louth failed to add to their tally for 18 minutes, by which time Dublin had rattled off eight points of their own.
It was as supine a surrender witnessed in the championship so far. Dublin moved about the pitch at their leisure, winning ball in midfield and moving it forward almost unopposed.
On the few times Louth win won possession they spilled the ball to an opponent before making more than a handful of strides, a sign that their hearts were not in it. The chief recipient of their apathy was Brogan who rattled off five points in that period. It was a welcome spree for a player who struggled during the league.
What it all says about Dublin and their hopes of claiming a first All-Ireland since 1995 is another thing entirely. Fennell’s emergence as a possible star apart, there was little new learnt.
Whether Westmeath, Wexford or Laois can ask some more searching questions remains to be seen.
Scorers for Dublin: A Brogan 1-7, T Quinn 0-6 (3f), C Keaney 0-3f, C Moran 0-2, J Sherlock 0-2, P Andrews 0-1, M Vaughan 0-1.
Scorers for Louth: A Hoey 0-3 (1f), D Crilly 0-2 (1f), R Finnegan 0-1, P Keenan 0-1, R Carroll 0-1, C Judge 0-1, S Lennon 0-1, J Murray 0-1, B White 0-1f.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; D Henry, R McConnell, S O’Shaughnessy; P Casey, B Cullen, B Cahill; E Fennell, S Ryan; C Moran, J Sherlock, P Andrews, A Brogan (capt), C Keaney, T Quinn.
Subs: M Vaughan for Andrews (53), B McManamon for Sherlock (61), K Nolan for Cullen (67), P McMahon for Cahill (68), D Magee for Fennell (69).
LOUTH: S Reynolds; D Finnegan, M Fanning, J Neary; J O’Brien, C McGuinness, R Finnegan; P Keenan, R Carroll; A Reid, M Stanfield, D Crilly; C Judge, A Hoey (capt), S Lennon.
Subs: A Page for Neary (42), J Murray for Crilly (42), B White for Reid (53), B Donnelly for Stanfield (60).
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).
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