Dublin claimed their 31st provincial title when overwhelming Meath in their Electric Ireland Leinster MFC final at Croke Park yesterday.
In doing so, Dublin repeated their facile victory over the same opponents in last year’s decider and their power and pace, allied to a wonderful individual display from Cormac Costello, was enough to garner genuine ambitions of improving on last year’s disappointing All-Ireland defeat.
The Dubs served early notice, with Gavin Burke racing unopposed through the Meath defence to fire over for the game’s opening score in the third minute. It proved a recurring theme throughout a one-sided half with Dublin’s power and pace punching holes at regular intervals as the holders monopolised possession at midfield through Shane Carthy and Stephen Cunningham.
Costello doubled Dublin’s advantage after four minutes and although Patrick Kennelly replied from an isolated Meath attack, their inability to secure primary possession had already begun to undermine their challenge.
Costello and Niall Walsh extended Dublin’s lead before Jack Hannigan kept his side in contention in the 14th minute when diving low to his left to deny Niall Scully’s penalty after the same player had been impeded by Ruairí Ó Coileáin.
It mattered little as the Dubs kicked a succession of scores through Robbie Gaughan, Conor McHugh and Burke before Costello found the net somewhat fortuitously as his point attempt deceived Hannigan in the 18th minute.
Leading 1-8 to 0-2 at this stage, Dublin preceded to over-elaborate, allowing Meath to enjoy a modicum of possession, while scores from Fiachra Ward and Barry Dardis whittled their deficit to 1-10 to 0-5 by the interval.
Although Ward kicked another free within three minutes of the restart, Meath’s hopes of an unlikely comeback were effectively quashed seconds later when Costello raced clear from the sideline and his pace was mirrored by an exceptional low finish under Hannigan.
A third goal from the dual player arrived five minutes later when, after appearing to have overrun the ball, McHugh composed himself sufficiently to find Costello, who rounded the horribly exposed Hannigan to fire into an empty net.
The Royals enjoyed a brief period in the ascendancy and kicked 1-3 in quick succession, with Cillian O’Sullivan smashing a superb goal beyond Lorcan Molloy at the end of the third quarter.
Suitably stirred, the Dubs began to reassert their dominance through Carthy and centre-back Conor Mulally with Burke, Costello and substitute Shane Cunningham landing three quick-fire points as Meath’s challenge dissipated.
A couple of goal chances were spurned in the dying minutes but late points from McHugh and Scully put the seal on an emphatic title defence, with manager Dessie Farrell reasonably satisfied by what he saw.
“We came here today with one objective in mind and that was to come away with the silverware and we managed to do that,” he said.
“It wasn’t pretty at times and there were sloppy periods throughout and the good thing from our perspective is that there is plenty of room for improvement.”
Scorers for Dublin: C Costello 3-4 (0-1f), C McHugh 0-4 (1f), G Burke 0-3, N Walsh 0-2, R Gaughan, S Carthy (1 45), Shane Cunningham, Niall Scully 0-1 each.
Scorers for Meath: F Ward 0-6 (5f), C O’Sullivan 1-0, P Kennelly, S Coogan, B Dardis, J Daley, A Flanagan 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: L Molloy; R McGowan, D Byrne, E Mullan; M Mac Donncha, C Mulally, E Lowndes; Stephen Cunningham, S Carthy; G Burke, N Scully, N Walsh; C McHugh, R Gaughan, C Costello.
Subs: D Gormley for Walsh (45), Shane Cunningham for Gaughan (51), D Campbell for McHugh (57), M Deegan for Costello (58), B Bentley for Carthy (61).
MEATH: J Hannigan; B Power, D Smyth, S Gallagher; P Kennelly, S McEntee, R Ó Coileáin; A Flanagan, P Harnan; C O’Sullivan, J Daley, J McEntee; B Dardis, F Ward, S Coogan.
Subs: C Carton for Kennelly (17), Kennelly for Coogan and J O’Malley for Smyth (h-t), H Rooney for Harnan (43), C Gillespie for Ó Coileáin.
Referee: Damien Brazil (Offaly).
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