A THIRD Leinster title in five seasons for the Dubs — but their coordinates have long been set far beyond the third weekend in July.
Hundreds of their raucous followers poured onto the Croke Park turf before the final whistle had even sounded but the team’s attitude to yesterday’s achievement was summed up best by goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton.
Rather than ascend the Hogan Stand steps to collect his medal with the rest of his colleagues, the Parnell man made a beeline down the tunnel for the solitude of the dressing room. Just another day in the office.
Popular thinking had it that they needed to win this one in some style for their candidacy to the top table to be given the official seal of approval and they managed that with some impressive flourishes as the game drew its last breath.
How much of their late swagger was down to them and how much was down to Offaly’s disappointing second -half showing is open to question for, like Laois before them, Kevin Kilmurray’s team melted away in the final phase.
Offaly cussed some of referee Marty Duffy’s decisions in the aftermath and captain Karol Slattery even pinpointed Jason Sherlock’s 68th-minute goal as the killer blow, but most neutral observers would beg to differ.
This game was decided long before Sherlock found the net. If anything, the contest was actually on life support by the time Alan McNamee was red -carded after 53 minutes.
By the time McNamee was stepping under the shower, his mates were five points adrift and with only one second -half score to their name.
His dismissal undoubtedly added to Offaly’s woes on the scoreboard but it played an insignificant part in deciding where the Leinster crown would reside for the next 12 months.
With their midfield bullying the skies, Dublin were splicing through the Offaly defence at a variety of speeds and angles and the law of averages demanded that they kept the scoreboard ticking over despite some wayward shooting.
Offaly’s only answer was to continue hoofing long balls in to their two-man full-forward line of Thomas Deehan and Niall McNamee. The service was harried and of poor quality and Dublin’s perceived weak link held firm.
Offaly never threw in the towel but the only time battle looked like seriously being resumed was when Cluxton’s fingertips sent a Niall McNamee shot over his crossbar with 10 minutes left to leave the gap at four points.
The pity is that such a tame ending seemed highly unlikely after Offaly’s determined opening.
Niall McNamee opened their account with a point after only 20 seconds and, when Alan McNamee sent another over the bar and down the throat of Hill 16 after 12 minutes, they were three clear with Dublin yet to play their first hand.
Until then, it was the champions who looked the nervous newcomers not the county playing their first provincial final in nine years. Tomas Quinn missed a handy free, Sherlock turned his cheek to a straightforward score and Alan Brogan saw an effort smothered.
Conal Keaney found their range with a 14th-minute free but Dublin finally kicked into gear on the back of an astonishing period of dominance in midfield that saw them claim eight out of 10 kick-outs — all bar two of them from the boot of Offaly ‘keeper Padraig Kelly.
Ciarán Whelan plucked ball after ball out of the clouds but Dublin took their time converting their possession into scores with Brogan, Sherlock, Declan Lally and Ray Cosgrove struggling.
It was Quinn who stepped up to the plate by popping over two from play and one from a dead ball to bring his side back.
The last of that trio left the sides level in first-half injury time but the half had one final sting in the tail and it was Offaly that would feel its venom.
Deehan swung a clever ball across the face of the Dublin goal for substitute Cathal Daly to run onto and, when the Tullamore man rounded Cluxton, the ‘keeper let his instinct take over and hauled the Offaly man to the ground.
In soccer they call it a professional foul but in Gaelic football it warrants nothing more than a yellow card.
Offaly didn’t even take a consolation prize with them into the dressing room, with Niall McNamee sending the close-range free wide of the post.
The youngster made amends by pointing within 30 seconds of the restart but that was as good as it got.
Dublin were level within five minutes and out of sight within 15 to become the first team in 11 years to retain the Leinster senior title.
The suspicion is that their appetite has simply been aroused instead of sated.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; D Henry, B Cahill, P Griffin; P Casey, B Culle, C Goggins; C Whelan, S Ryan; C Keaney (0-3, 1f), A Brogan (0-4), R Cosgrove; J Sherlock (1-1), K Bonner, T Quinn (0-7, 4f).
Subs: S Connell for Cosgrove 57, D O’Callaghan for Lally 62, D Magee for Quinn 68, C Moran for Goggins 70, S O’Shaughnessy for Griffin 71.
OFFALY: P Kelly; G Rafferty, S Sullivan, N Grennan; P McConway, S Brady, K Slattery; C McManus (0-2f), A McNamee (0-1); D Hunt, N Coughlan, J Reynolds; T Deehan (0-2), P Kellaghan, N McNamee (0-4, 1f).
Subs: C Daly for Brady 32, J Keane for McConway 44, C Quinn for Hunt 49, M Daly for Reynolds 58.
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).
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