Who can halt Jim Gavin's ruthless Blue machine?
Dublin leave Kildare in smithereens en route to final
BY the time Westmeath's band of history-makers made a giddy exit off the Croke Park stage, some time after half-three, we had already exhausted our full quota of drama for the day.
In the same way that lightning doesn't strike twice, you don't get two earthquakes on the same double-header of Leinster football semi-finals.
So Dublin came onto their field of dreams and duly obliterated Kildare. It was ruthless, it was efficient, it was at times glorious to behold.
It wasn't exactly riveting stuff, mind you. For that to happen, you need two to tango.
We're not in the business of blaming Kildare for this lopsided state of affairs. Dublin have moved so far ahead of the rest in Leinster that the Lilies could have parked a fleet of buses in front of Hill 16 for that first half and it wouldn't have altered the result, whatever about the extent of the carnage.
At times Kildare tried to pile bodies back, but it never looked structured or cohesive in the way that Donegal - at their peak - have mastered the art of blanket defence followed by rapid-fire counter-attack.
Kildare were out of their depth and Dublin hammered home this point remorselessly.
By 4.13pm, when Bernard Brogan pounced on a breaking ball in the Kildare goalmouth to hit a first-time rocket for Dublin's second goal, the unbackable favourites led by 2-3 to 0-2 and it was officially over as a contest.
Whatever happened after that was mere statistical embellishment. At half-time the scoreboard read 3-10 to 0-6. For most of the third quarter, as Dublin dozed at the wheel, Kildare threatened to lend some respectability to the final audit: the runaway leaders were limited to just two Dean Rock frees in that period while Kildare hit 0-5 in reply.
But then this lean, mean Sky Blue machine pressed the pedal to the metal once more and accelerated far over the horizon.
By full-time, the scoreline of 5-18 to 0-14 translated into a record-equalling loss for Kildare to their old foe in championship combat, the previous 19-point margin dating all the way back to 1897.
Mind you, it was only three worse than the 16-point trimming endured just two years ago at the same semi-final stage - proof that this was no-off fluke.
Dublin, right now, are playing in a different stratosphere to the rest of Leinster - Westmeath, for all their heroism, included.
While you can't make definitive All-Ireland judgements based on anything Dublin do this side of August, the portents are all promising.
Daft Dublin wides are now an endangered species. They are rotating forwards, during games, in a manner that seems to leave hapless opponents completely wrong-footed.
Crucially, they look far more more clued-in to their defensive responsibilities. Check out Paul Flynn gathering possession on his own 20-metre line, midway through the first half; or the number of times players ghosted back to clog up space as Kildare vainly chased a goal that might ignite some semblance of a fightback.
Dublin have now conceded just four goals in 11 league and championship games this season. That's some turnaround for a team that leaked three in just 70 minutes against Donegal last August.
The unanswered question remains: will they be able to break down the most obdurate of blanket defences?
Yet, given the individual form displayed by some of their marquee men - both yesterday and for much of the year thus far - there is every chance that they will.
We'll name-check three players to underline this point: Jack McCaffrey, Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly.
McCaffrey has been flying all year, metaphorically ... and in the 13th minute he flew, literally, past three Kildare opponents, one after another. Jet-heeled Jack duly handpassed across the goalmouth, Rock got a touch and then Brogan unleashed his bullet.
The only reason the net didn't shake was because it crashed into the head of Diarmuid Connolly, who had somehow ended up beyond the Kildare goal-line.
This was the closest we came yesterday to Connolly's senses being scrambled. Not long beforehand (soon after Dean Rock had capitalised on Philly McMahon's penetrating foray to land Dublin's first goal, in the ninth minute) Connolly had raced onto a breaking ball and dinked it into his hands without breaking stride. As points go, it was simple and yet sublime.
Even after his Brogan-induced head-shaker, Connolly was massively influential as a ball-winner, worker, creator - and goal-taker. He finished with sumptuous aplomb in first half injury-time, then put Kildare sub 'keeper Colin Heeney the wrong way from his 64th minute penalty, Mark Donnellan having been black-carded for tripping Rock.
Connolly finished with 2-3, the same mark as Brogan courtesy of his second goal, teed up by Paddy Andrews after 67 minutes. The younger Brogan has looked back to his razor-sharp best during Dublin's cumulative 46-point annihilation of Longford and now Kildare.
Oh, and we didn't even mention older brother Alan, who enhanced his claims for a starting recall with a buzzing three-point cameo.
Not that Jim Gavin needed his bench for any heavy lifting yesterday.
leinster sfc semi-final