Dublin 2-15 Meath 0-14
Seven-point wins don’t come much more flawed than this — and yet Dublin’s statistics would tell you this was plain sailing.
This game was won with over 10 minutes to go by a team that took three of their six goal chances, a better return than their four from 13 against Kildare two weeks previous, and they kept a clean sheet, holding Meath to a humble score total as well.
After his four points last day out, Ciarán Kilkenny produced a stellar demonstration of centre-forward play that further undermined Jack O’Shea’s claim that he is a junior footballer.
In his national newspaper column yesterday, the Kerry great went about repairing some of the damage but qualified there was room for improvement in Kilkenny’s game.
Bar the odd iffy shot at the posts, there was little in the 20-year-old’s performance that could be bettered. On a day when several of his more seasoned team-mates disappointed, Kilkenny’s assuredness was a tonic that Jim Gavin required.
Having coughed up six consecutive scores in the final 11 minutes of the first half and trailed by two, 0-9 to 1-4 at the break, Dublin as a unit lacked the composure seen against Kildare and Westmeath.
Brian Meade and Conor Gillespie were crucifying Dublin in midfield with Paul Flynn really only Dublin’s viable outlet from Stephen Cluxton’s kickouts.
Meath were able to piece together a respectable performance without relying on Graham Reilly, who was anonymous for significant swathes of the game.
Stephen Bray led the march early doors, putting up two points in the first couple of minutes and as much as Flynn’s fifth minute goal, initiated by a perfectly placed free-kick by Kilkenny to Paul Mannion inside, appeared to be a portent of doom for them they held their heads even when Dublin added another couple of points to go 1-3 to 0-2 ahead.
Stephen Cluxton’s 45 in the 23rd minute was Dublin’s last point of the half as Meath’s midfield authority began to transfer to the scoreboard.
It hadn’t in the early part of the game when they clocked up four wides and Mickey Newman hit the post from a free and Damien Carroll dragged a shot wide.
Newman, though, had five to his name by the interval, three in the purple patch with two of them from frees.
The last of them to push Meath two ahead in the 35th minute came courtesy of a lazy Ger Brennan free, which forced Kevin O’Brien into making a clumsy tackle on Brian Meade.
The lightning quick Eamonn Wallace was also finding plenty of purchase in and around the Dublin full-back line, fisting a point in the 24th minute then adding a second 10 minutes later.
Half-time was a haven for Dublin and it took Kilkenny just 13 seconds to slice the margin to one on the resumption. A Bernard Brogan free a minute later levelled the game and then Flynn pushed Dublin ahead for the second time in the game.
In those two and a half minutes, Dublin’s explosiveness was unveiled albeit momentarily as Newman restored parity. Two Kilkenny points in the space of a minute, the first full of dexterous ingenuity, pulled Dublin two ahead but they were hauled back with Meade and Newman scores.
Some argy-bargy followed a free awarded to Dublin, which Cluxton coolly converted and then Gavin called for reinforcements. They came in more than handy, Denis Bastick providing the sort of orthodox presence that Cian O’Sullivan couldn’t provide before the 47th minute.
Dean Rock came up with his couple of scores and his trajectory could be sending him towards the super sub atmosphere where Kevin McManamon, yesterday making his 12th of 18 Championship appearances, has resided.
Dublin lived a little dangerously in the 48th minute when Wallace attempted to lob Cluxton but found the goalkeeper equal to his kick.
They went two points ahead when Paul Mannion dusted himself off to penalise the foul he drew from Bryan Menton. Jack McCaffrey’s dashing run almost earned him a goal, which rocketed the post, in the 53rd minute, but there was no initiative lost as Mannion pointed a minute later.
Diarmuid Connolly then had a net-bound shot cleared by Mickey Burke and the margin was reduced to two when Brennan was left for dead by Bray to set up Newman for a point.
A Cluxton 58th minute free restored Dublin’s three-point advantage and then came the killer blow, a move started by a well-executed shoulder by James McCarthy to shove Graham Reilly out over the sideline.
The ball was transferred up the field and saw the unlikely O’Brien aim first at goal but O’Rourke saved only for Mannion to react quickest and finish soccer-style to the net.
Six points up, Dublin’s shoulders loosened and Connolly’s deft kick-pass assisted Rock in a score.
Meath substitute Joe Sheridan, after a couple of poor attempts, finally split the posts in the 69th minute but by that time Rock added another in the form of a free and Dublin were comfortable. Finally. Before the game and contrary to widespread belief, Gavin said Dublin had been tested in Leinster. Nobody was disputing that after yesterday’s final.
Scorers for Dublin: P Mannion (1-4, 0-2 frees); P Flynn (1-1); S Cluxton (two frees, one 45), C Kilkenny (0-3 each); D Rock (0-2, one free); D Connolly, B Brogan (free) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Meath: M Newman (0-8, five frees); S Bray, E Wallace (0-2 each); B Meade, J Sheridan (0-1 each).
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; J Cooper, R O’Carroll, K O’Brien; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley, C O’Sullivan; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; P Mannion, E O’Gara, B Brogan.
Subs for Dublin: K McManamon for B Brogan (blood 17-19); K McManamon for J McCaffrey, D Bastick for C O’Sullivan (both 47); D Daly for G Brennan (58); D Rock for B Brogan (61); B Cullen for D Connolly (66).
MEATH: P O’Rourke; D Keogan, K Reilly, M Burke; S Kenny, P Harnan, B Menton; B Meade, C Gillespie; E Wallace, D Carroll, G Reilly; P Byrne, S Bray, M Newman.
Meath subs: P Gilsenan for P Byrne (42); C Lenihan for S Kenny (50); J Sheridan for D Carroll (52); A Tormey for B Meade (61); D McDonagh for E Wallace (66).
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois).
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