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Saturday 3 December 2016

Ciaran Whelan: Diarmuid Connolly's class adds colour to dull final encounter

Diarmuid Connolly, Dublin, in action against Paul Sharry, Westmeath. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Westmeath v Dublin, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Diarmuid Connolly, Dublin, in action against Paul Sharry, Westmeath. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Westmeath v Dublin, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
brian fenton

DUBLIN'S 13-point win over Westmeath yesterday afternoon may not have been the most complete display by the Dubs but I think it's only fair to recognise their fifth successive provincial title.

Dublin's supporters may have become a touch blasé about winning another Leinster championship but to secure five on the bounce is a wonderful achievement and should be seen as that.

Granted, Leinster football is at its least competitive than it has been for a long time but that shouldn't detract from their achievement and the players should be appreciated for the drive, talent and commitment that makes them such an exceptional panel.

Of course, Dublin's ambitions at this stage go beyond winning Leinster titles with success or failure dependent on their ability to secure the Holy Grail of the All-Ireland.

Certainly, yesterday's performance wouldn't be enough to claim their third Sam Maguire in five years but I believe that Jim Gavin will be happy enough with what he witnessed at Croke Park given the massive room for improvement that his side possess.

Much of the rumours during the week had suggested that Westmeath may adopt an ultra-defensive approach after a recent challenge match against Mayo and so it proved as the midlanders lined up to thwart Dublin at every opportunity.

Their policy worked to a large degree in the first-half as they bottled up the middle and forced Dublin to attack down the wings.

Dublin's patience and ball retention at this stage was not of the highest quality and this led to some dubious shot selection that undermined their dominance and control in terms of possession and territory.

I certainly think that Westmeath deserve huge credit for being able to implement such a game-plan given the troubles they had against Meath in their semi-final last Sunday fortnight and their discipline and ability to remain in contention for the first half was a credit to both the players and manager Tom Cribbin.

Whereas Longford and Kildare were unable to give Dublin any kind of test, Westmeath could justifiably claim to have given the Dubs their first genuine challenge of the summer.

Of course, Westmeath's defensive policy ensured they were unable to test Dublin's defence to any great degree and the abandon and enterprise with which they took Meath apart in the semi-final was marked absent from their performance.

DAMAGE

Once both Bernard Brogan and Jack McCaffrey netted early in the second-half, Westmeath's fate was sealed and from that juncture onwards, they were more concerned with restricting the damage on the scoreboard, something that they managed to do to a large degree.

That there was only 13 points between the teams at the final whistle was a combination of Westmeath doggedness and Dublin's lack of intensity over the 70 minutes in which they failed to reach the heights of their semi-final demolition of Kildare.

That certain languidness manifested itself in some sloppy basic handling errors and the lack of movement of the forward line ensured Westmeath were able to direct Dublin down the less threatening flank areas.

Certainly, Dublin will need to be far more clinical as they enter the All-Ireland series as a tally of 2-13, given they complete monopoly on possession is a poor return for their supremacy.

Very few of the starting forwards could be satisfied with their afternoon's work with Ciarán Kilkenny kicking some fine scores but once again, it was the class of Diarmuid Connolly that shone through from an attacking perspective.

There is far greater consistency to the St Vincent's player now and in addition to the sublime points that illuminated the afternoon, his passing and ability to find a player in space behind the defensive shield was a joy to behold.

Of course, one would expect Dublin to produce a far more energetic and focussed performance when they line up for the quarter-finals but I'm not sure yesterday told us an awful lot as to their capabilities and general well-being regarding their All-Ireland ambitions.

The need to be patient, something which proved their undoing against Donegal last year, is a vital aspect when assessing their chances this year as teams will have looked at yesterday's display and have been encouraged by the manner in which Westmeath were able to curb their goal threat, that blitz in the 40th minute notwithstanding.

PEDESTRIAN

The pace at which they play the game is equally crucial and Dublin looked quite pedestrian at times but no doubt that will be rectified as the summer moves on. The error count will also need to be reduced as there is less margin for error and the lack of a back-door from this stage onwards should act as sufficient motivation in that regard.

I would expect Dublin to be far more ruthless as they move out of the province, something they will need to be as they're highly unlikely to enjoy such periods of possession in their last-eight match.

Dublin were really in a "no-win" situation yesterday but they can be content that they progressed without any alarms with tougher challenges lying in wait.

 

In addition to the sublime points that illuminated the afternoon, his passing and ability to find a player in space behind the defensive shield was a joy to behold.

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