DUBLIN 0-20 KILDARE 1-9
Dublin may be leaning on their reputation a little too much these days but trading off it was enough to see off Kildare long before the final whistle.
Eight points the margin, their smallest winning cushion in a Leinster final in eight years, will be added to the book of evidence against their prospects of defending the title for a sixth time.
The minutiae of this hiccuping performance will be thrown at Dublin too — Con O’Callaghan’s tame first-half shot, O’Callaghan running into Ciarán Kilkenny in the second, and James McCarthy being turned over for Daniel Flynn’s goal. All have to be considered but in spite of those unprecedented events, Dublin were still too good.
Flynn’s 62nd-minute goal to cut the gap to five points, but only prompted Dublin to put the game well and truly out of Kildare’s reach and it was Kilkenny, so harshly done out of a Footballer of the Year award last season, who steadied matters with a mark followed by a Cormac Costello brace.
As emphatic as Flynn’s finish was, it felt like a consolation score. Dublin still carry that sense of inevitability and until a game is beyond them coming into those final stages that is unlikely to change.
Truth be told, Kildare didn’t look like they could push on from a green flag that came completely against the run of play. Jack O’Connor had devised a game-plan to be competitive but to win? Resting so much on the shoulders of Daniel Flynn up front was only going to get them so far.
After giving Dublin some hardship in the Leinster quarter-final, Wexford manager Shane Roche spoke of not giving the champions enough of the ball for them to figure things out. Kildare were able to spoil them enough in the first half to prevent them getting settled but in the second the Lilywhites retreated more in the hope of soaking pressure. Like the good environmentalists that they are, Dublin recycled and recycled and with Kilkenny acting as quarterback the locks were picked.
One wide in the second half was also a marked improvement on their offerings in the first when they hit four wides and dropped four short. Kildare were just as wayward with five short and three wides.
“I think it was just a case of making better decisions, probably being a little bit more patient,” said Dessie Farrell of Dublin’s earlier shooting. “In the first half, we were forcing some shots from difficult angles, maybe not having the time and space to pull the trigger that way.
“It was something we discussed at half-time. I think we did a better job (in the second half). The way Kildare were set up, they were difficult to penetrate, so we had just had to be patient, probing, probing, wait for the right opportunity.”
Urgency is not something you would associate with this Dublin team right now but they did look to be overzealous at times with their shot-taking in the opening period. They led 0-5 to 0-4 at the first water break and kept Kildare to a single point in the second period to go into half-time 0-9 to 0-5 ahead.
For Kildare, so much good was coming off Daniel Flynn and when he snap-kicked an early second-half score it appeared he was setting the tone for what was to come. Yet six minutes later and Dublin were five to the good. Paddy Small became the final Dublin forward to score from play in the 47th minute, his effort the first of four Dublin scores in a row that killed the contest.
Given how he had spoken about Kildare already having had a good year after the win over Meath, O’Connor may have been labouring his anger about how his team had been dismissed in the build-up to this fixture. His point wasn’t exactly strengthened by his admission that the loss of three first-team players to injury dented their hopes of a surprise.
“Another thing that the media didn’t pick up was that we came up last year, we picked an initial panel of 39 players, there’s only 16 or 17 of those left so we’ve got an awful lot of youth and energy into the panel and this is our first year really having a go at this,” he argued.
“So I think they’ve made good strides in the first year and you would expect that they will keep improving and I think you have to factor in as well that the underdogs, we being the underdogs, we needed everything to go for us and we came into the game without one of the best midfielders in the country in Kevin Feely and probably one of the best man-markers in the game in Eoin Doyle and also Paul Cribbin, who was having a great year for us, very athletic wing-forward.”
Farrell twice insisted the claims Dublin are on the slide were of no consequence to him. They don’t because he can’t let them, he explained. “I think that does a disservice to the group, to the players who are there. Obviously, there has been a period of transition, fellows have retired so it is a different look to the team to two years ago, in the panel at least, and that is just the nature of sport. The challenge for us is to continue to move forward and regenerate and that is what we tried to do.”
James Horan has been overseeing the same process with Mayo and it would appear Saturday week’s semi-final is beautifully poised (as if Dublin and Mayo games these days aren’t). Farrell said of Mayo’s own provincial final win seven days earlier: “Mayo will probably be disappointed with their own first-half performance and they looked exceptionally good in the second half.
“No more than ourselves against Meath, I’m sure they’ll be trying to bring consistency to their performance as well against Dublin. It’s going to be a great tussle. There’s been very little to separate the teams over the years and we’re looking forward to it at this stage.”
Four points in a row in five minutes in the third quarter made this game Dublin’s. Ciarán Kilkenny scored the latter two and the margin grew to eight, which it was at the end despite Daniel Flynn’s goal.
This game is not going to change the minds of those who believe Dublin are on the wane. Not since 2013 have they been out-goaled in a game. As for the last time they didn’t threaten a goal? Answers on a postcard please.
There may not be a Leinster senior football championship as we know it next year but the provincial council may be hoping competition is returning to the province and the gate receipts will come flooding in.
It’s been quite some time since Con O’Callaghan was this quiet. Like David Clifford, expect him to reignite come All-Ireland semi-final time.
Dessie Farrell suggested Robbie McDaid could be fit to appear on the bench against Mayo. Having been temporarily replaced in the 42nd minute, John Small didn’t return to the field after picking up a cut over his eye, Farrell reported.
Kildare put in an extra line of defence that fundamentally protected the middle and because of it Dublin often ran out of ideas in the first half. Without Daniel Flynn, they wouldn’t have been able to stay with Dublin as long as they did but Jack O’Connor’s plan was laudable if limited.
BEST ON SHOW
When it came down to putting this game away, Ciarán Kilkenny took it by the scruff of the neck. Daniel Flynn was a force for Kildare but needed more assistance up front.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Martin McNally was particularly sharp on the number of steps players were taking and also brought the ball forward a few times. Dublin didn’t pick up many frees in the second half not that Farrell was too bothered.
A repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final when Dublin and Mayo clash in Saturday week’s semi-final.
Scorers for Dublin: D. Rock (0-5, 3 frees); C. Kilkenny (1 mark), C. Costello (0-4 each); N. Scully (0-2, 1 mark); J. McCarthy, C. O’Callaghan, P. Small, B. Howard, R. Basquel (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kildare: D. Flynn (1-2, 0-1 mark); J. Hyland (0-4, 2 frees); N. Flynn, A. Beirne, B. McLoughlin (0-1 each).
DUBLIN: E. Comerford; D. Byrne, M. Fitzsimons; J. Cooper (c); B. Howard, J. Small, S. McMahon; B. Fenton, J. McCarthy; P. Small, C. Kilkenny, N. Scully; C. Costello, C. O’Callaghan, D. Rock.
Subs for Dublin: E. Murchan for J. Small (temp 42); C. Basquel for D. Rock (54); S. Bugler for P. Small (61); T. Lahiff for J. Cooper (69); R. Basquel for C. O’Callaghan (70+1); E. Ó Conghaile for C. Kilkenny (70+3).
KILDARE: M. Donnellan; M. O’Grady, M. Dempsey, D. Malone; S. Ryan, D. Hyland (c); R. Houlihan, K. Flynn; B. McCormack, L. Flynn, A. Masterson; N. Flynn, F. Conway; D. Flynn, J. Hyland.
Subs for Kildare: A. Beirne for F. Conway, N. Kelly for R. Houlihan (both 45); D. Kirwan for J. Hyland (58); B. McLoughlin for N. Flynn (61); S. O’Sullivan for B. McCormack (65).
Referee: M. McNally (Monaghan).