Dublin 4-25 Wicklow 1-11
This was always going to be a crude game of numbers; how many goals would Dublin score, by what minute would they have all six subs on, when would Wicklow wave the white flag? Ultimately, it was a question of how much Dublin would win by and that figure finished up at 23 points.
Not quite the 27 points they buried Longford by in 2015 or, more recently, the 31 that separated themselves and Westmeath last season.
Still, it was a bone fide rout and the only surprise was that after scoring four first-half goals Dublin didn’t manage any more.
They had their chances but, in truth, Jim Gavin seemed more interested in assessing all his options at that stage and, for the record, had all six of his subs on the field by the 52nd minute.
Mind you, he raised a suspicious eye to one reporter afterwards who asked why he didn’t experiment more in the circumstances and go with a rookie team.
“I don’t think we’ve ever done experimentation,” Gavin shot back. “Those jerseys are earned. Those 21 players earned that right.”
It might have sounded like a cliche but with Gavin, and this Dublin setup, it really is the case and they trundle forward to a Leinster semi-final date with Longford on June 10.
That constant competition for places is why Ciarán Kilkenny, the game’s outstanding performer, busted a gut throughout to impress.
He helped himself to 1-7, all from play, and has seized the licence to attack which he’s clearly been handed by Gavin following several years of play-making duty.
Brian Fenton was at his industrious best too and lorded it around midfield. The game was never tight or, even competitive, but when it was there to be won, early on, Fenton was the driving force and hit Dublin’s opening goal.
He almost grabbed a second in the second-half but was expertly thwarted by Mark Jackson. Con O’Callaghan, on his first start of the season for Dublin following club hurling duty, was terrific too and scored 1-3. Dublin were on top in virtually all sectors and from Gavin’s perspective it was a job well done.
“They’ve been on script,” said Gavin of his team’s preparations.
“They’re a very ambitious, determined group and their application over the last number of weeks was shown there in that performance.”
It played out pretty much as Wicklow manager John Evans predicted when he suggested that it would be like a sledgehammer squashing a fly, the league champions against the worst team in Division 4.
James Stafford, the destroyer of St Vincent’s last November in Aughrim, did supply his trademark goal against Dublin opposition from a high ball in but it was a rare peak.
“They’re a super team and I really take the compliment of the team they selected, it was such a fabulous, strong team that they put out against us,” said Evans.
“I suppose that anybody could see that the writing was on the wall and we knew that ourselves, it was a case of damage limitation.
“At the same time I kept telling our lads to keep playing, keep working at it, and had we got the first couple of scores - we had four wides in the first 10 or 12 minutes - I think it would have settled us down because there were a lot of young lads out there.
“Having said that, look, what can I say, there are so many superlatives you can offer about Dublin. They are just so strong everywhere.”
The ominous thing to consider is that Dublin, for various reasons, were without Bernard Brogan, Cian O’Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey and Diarmuid Connolly. They simply never let up and were on Wicklow’s case from the moment the ball was thrown-in.
Dublin were 2-7 to no score clear before Wicklow even registered a score, a Stafford point from distance that drew the anticipated ironic cheers.
Maybe there’s something for Wicklow to take from scoring 1-11 against Dublin. Their neighbours and rivals Carlow only managed seven points a year ago at the same venue.
They’ll go into this morning’s qualifier draw feeling they still have something to offer the Championship.
As for Dublin, they march on safe in the knowledge that their Rolls Royce engine still runs smoothly.
They led 4-13 to 1-4 at the break with Kilkenny’s goal, Dublin’s third, just before the break coming immediately after Cluxton had saved from Stafford.
On another day, it might have been classed as a turning point. In reality, that point came for Wicklow when they beat Offaly to qualify to play Dublin.
The second-half panned out upon anticipated lines with Dublin pouring forward and kicking scores for fun. Wicklow at least kept at it and to their credit were only beaten by 0-12 to 0-7 in the second-half.
Darren Hayden kicked a couple of beauties for Wicklow and there were neat points from Dean Healy and Mark Kenny also though, like Evans said, it was all in the context of damage limitation at that stage.
Scorers for Dublin: C. Kilkenny (1-7); C. O’Callaghan and B. Fenton (1-3 each); D. Rock (1-2, 2 frees); P. Andrews (0-3); C. McHugh (0-2, 1 free); B. Howard, P. McMahon, M.D. Macauley, P. Mannion (1 45) and C. Basquel (0-1 each).
Scorers for Wicklow: J. Stafford (1-1); T Smyth, D. Hayden and M. Jackson (2 frees) (0-2 each); S. Furlong (1 free), R. Finn, D. Healy and M. Kenny (0-1 each).
DUBLIN: S. Cluxton; E. Lowndes, P. McMahon, M. Fitzsimons; J. McCarthy, J. Cooper, B. Howard; M.D. Macauley, B. Fenton; N. Scully, C. Kilkenny, C. O’Callaghan; D. Rock, P. Mannion, P. Andrews.
Subs: E. Murchan for Fitzsimons and C. McHugh for Rock (h/t); P. Flynn for Macauley and D. Daly for Mannion (41); C. Basquel for Andrews (48); K. McManamon for O’Callaghan (52).
WICKLOW: M. Jackson; E. Murtagh, R. O’Brien, C. Hyland; J. Crowe, D. Healy, S. Kearon; R. Finn, J. Stafford; D. Hayden, K. Murphy, T. Smyth; S. Furlong, J. McGrath, M. Kenny.
Subs: C. Magee for Murphy and D. Fitzgerald for McGrath (h/t); C. Healy for Kearon (50); P. Merrigan for Crowe (53); B. Kennedy for Stafford (58); D. Keane for Smyth (68).
Referee: C. Branagan (Down).
The game was up for Wicklow after the opening quarter hour.
They trailed by 2-7 to no score at that stage. As cynical as it sounds, the game was probably up for them from the moment they beat Offaly to qualify.
Wicklow wanted the game played in Aughrim but were apparently told the ground was too small.
It holds around 8,000 though yesterday’s attendance was only 11,786. For the sake of promoting football in a weaker county, it might have been worth taking the hit.
James McCarthy dropped to full-back to mark James Stafford when the big midfielder moved closer to goals. It’s an interesting ploy that could pay off for Dublin who have suffered under the high ball in the past.
Leinster football is in a real rut.
Kildare and Meath are supposed to be putting the pressure on Dublin but they look as far away from presenting a serious challenge as ever. And the Dubs keep ploughing on.
Jack McCaffrey is making good progress on his cruciate recovery and could feature in Dublin’s provincial campaign.
Cian O’Sullivan is still out though and didn’t make the 26. Bernard Brogan remains a long-term absentee.
John Evans promised not to park the bus but Wicklow had no option as Dublin swarmed forward. It offered little resistance against Dublin’s incessant attacking anyhow.
BEST ON SHOW
Ciarán Kilkenny has been a terrific playmaker for Dublin but he’s back doing what he does best now, scoring. He hit 1-7, all from play and looks poised for some big returns at Croke Park this summer.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
A year ago Ciarán Branagan was at the center of the Diarmuid Connolly storm in Portlaoise.
He was glad of this peaceful afternoon, dishing out just four yellow cards, two to either team.
Dublin are through to a June 10 Leinster semi-final against Longford.
Wicklow will take their place in this morning’s Round 1 qualifier draw as anticipated.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved