Dublin 2-25 Longford 0-12
It’s tempting to suggest Ciaran Kilkenny’s 74th-minute point for Dublin, the last of the game, was the most significant moment of the afternoon.
Why? Because it wasn’t until that score that Dublin finally beat the 18-point spread laid down by bookmakers beforehand.
Unfortunately for the rest of Leinster, that’s what games involving Dublin at Croke Park have now boiled down to — a question of how much they will win by.
Everything that came before Kilkenny’s fourth point of the day was pretty much as we all expected, a Sky Blue procession.
Even Dublin manager Jim Gavin admitted it was basically business as usual as they stormed through to a June 24 Leinster final clash with Laois.
“It’s a semi-final, we look at it that way, just a job to be done,” shrugged Gavin. “It’s onto the final now and that’s where we want to be.”
Three years ago Dublin beat Jack Sheedy’s Longford by 27 points and while there was just 19 in it this time, it should have been much more.
Dublin scored two goals, from Dean Rock and Paul Mannion, during a six-minute blitzkrieg in the first half, but should have notched at least double that.
They were that dominant and the difference between Division 1 and Division 3 was apparent for all to see. Longford boss Denis Connerton might have kept things a bit closer if he’d parked the bus, but, like Sheedy in 2015, he decided not to.
Sheedy said back then that it simply wasn’t Longford’s way to play like that, though Connerton explained that the decision this time was more down to not having enough time to implement a new style.
Either way, the result would almost certainly have been the same as Dublin coasted to their 17th consecutive win in the provincial championship under Gavin.
It didn’t help Longford’s cause that James McGivney was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Stephen Cluxton moments after he’d punched a ball clear in the 21st minute.
“In Leinster, Dublin is the big monster that looms over everybody,” said Connerton. “And they are exactly that.
“We have to be upbeat about this. There weren’t too many people giving us any hope of winning.
“But we’re back in our favourite competition, we’re back in the qualifiers. We’re after missing out on the first round for the first time in 10 years, I think. We’ll be going in at the second round and hopefully that works out for us.”
Longford pulled off a shock win over Dublin in the O’Byrne Cup in early 2016 but another upset was never on the cards here. Like Wicklow in the quarter-finals, they looked jittery to begin with and leaked three points in the first four minutes. Philly McMahon strode forward from defence and scored a point and nearly added a goal within five minutes.
It was always going to be one of those days and Longford’s challenge pretty much petered out by the 25-minute mark.
They trailed 0-8 to 0-4 after 18 minutes but conceded those two goals, the first a palmed Rock effort after good work by Michael Darragh Macauley and the second from Mannion after a clever turnover.
In between, McGivney was sent off and suddenly Longford were down to 14 and trailing 2-9 to 0-4. Game over.
Of most significance for Dublin was bringing on Jack McCaffrey for his first action since last year’s All-Ireland final win over Mayo. The wing-back suffered cruciate knee ligament damage in that game. Cian O’Sullivan also came on yesterday after shoulder surgery.
“Jack hadn’t played a representative fixture but he’d been playing away in the background with us for a number of weeks, as had Cian as well,” said Gavin. “So great to see them back on the pitch and they played their part in the second half, absolutely.”
There was a peek at life PC, post-Cluxton, with deputy goalkeeper Evan Comerford stepping up to the plate and keeping a clean sheet when Cluxton went off after the McGivney hit.
“I think you saw it out there, there was a seamless transition when he came on which is a credit to Evan and his application over not only weeks but a number of months and years,” said Gavin.
“He’s very assured, a very good shot-stopper and his kick-outs have really improved. He’s accurate off the tee which is great for any goalkeeper to have.”
Dublin conceded just seven points from play. Gavin admitted his side need to improve at the other end of the field. They created half a dozen goal chances that they failed to convert.
McMahon and Eric Lowndes wasted two early on and Mannion, Rock, Macauley, and Colm Basquel were all denied in the second half.
That’s something for those players to brush up on ahead of the Laois date in a fortnight, according to Gavin. “It’s one thing we could look at, the execution of those chances,” he said.
“But from the attacking perspective I’m very happy that we created those opportunities and it’s good to see us doing that. We hit four goals the last day, we possibly could have got one or two more today so at least we’re creating them and that’s the most positive thing. If we weren’t you’d be a little bit concerned.”
Scorers for Dublin: D Rock 1-6 (0-5f), P Mannion 1-2, B Fenton 0-4, C Kilkenny 0-4, C O’Callaghan 0-2, C Basquel 0-2, P McMahon 0-1, J McCarthy 0-1, B Howard 0-1, P Andrews 0-1, N Scully 0-1.
Scorers for Longford: R Smyth 0-5 (0-3f), P Collum 0-1 (0-1 45), D McElligott 0-1, M Quinn 0-1, D Reynolds 0-1, D McGivney 0-1 (0-1f), S McCormack 0-1, R Brady 0-1.
Dublin: S Cluxton; E Lowndes, P McMahon, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, J Cooper, B Howard; B Fenton, MD Macauley; N Scully, C O’Callaghan, P Mannion; D Rock, C Kilkenny, P Andrews.
Subs: E Comerford for Cluxton (23, blood), D Daly for Fitzsimons (h/t), J McCaffrey for Cooper (h/t), C Basquel for Mannion (49), K McManamon for Andrews (49), C O’Sullivan for McCarthy (55), P Flynn for Macauley (58).
Longford: P Collum; P Fox, P McCormack, D Masterson; D McElligott, D Mimnagh, M Quinn; D Gallagher, C Berry; L Connerton, D McGivney, D Reynolds; R Smyth, J McGivney, R Brady.
Subs: S McCormack for Connerton (28), B Gilleran for Quinn (56, BC), M Nally for D McGivney (64), P Foy for Reynolds (65), D Quinn for Masterson (66), S Donohoe for Mimnagh (71).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).
The game hinged on a six-minute spell between the 18th and 24th minutes. Dean Rock and Paul Mannion scored Dublin goals and Longford lost James McGivney to a red card. It went from a fourpoint game to Dublin leading 2-9 to 0-4 and having a man extra.
Dublin are surely cruising towards their easiest Leinster title win ever. They’ve beaten Division 4 and Division 3 opposition with 42 points to spare. And Division 4 champions Laois are next up, a side they’ve beaten twice by 11 points under Jim Gavin.
Former Dublin goalkeeper John Leonard spoke in his autobiography about waiting patiently for Stephen Cluxton to be injured or sent off, but it rarely happened. Evan Comerford was in Leonard’s position yesterday and got his chance. Not that he’d admit to taking pleasure from Cluxton’s injury.
Speaking of Cluxton, Dublin’s use of seven substitutes under the temporary change rule is a loophole that the GAA will come under pressure to tighten up. It was announced that Comerford was temporarily replacing him though Cluxton never returned.
Cian O’Sullivan (shoulder) and Jack McCaffrey (knee) both returned after length lay-offs and Paul Flynn (back) is closing in on full fitness. Stephen Cluxton will be expected back for the final.
Dublin attacked in waves as usual. Philly McMahon scored a point and had a goal chance in the first five minutes. Longford decided not to park the bus as they haven’t played that way all season.
BEST ON SHOW
Brian Fenton is developing into a player that Dublin simply cannot do without. The midfielder kicked four points from play for the second game running and cruised up and down the field all afternoon. Ciarán Kilkenny impressed too, shooting the same tally.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Maurice Deegan handed a red to Longford’s James McGivney.
He could have let him away with a yellow but it was a needlessly late challenge that left Stephen Cluxton winded and in need of medical attention.
Dublin are through to the June 24th Leinster final against Laois, a repeat of the 2007 decider.
Longford will be in this morning’s Round 2 qualifier draw.
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