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Monday 18 December 2017

Dublin off to flyer

Gilroy's troops fire early warning with rout of Wee army

THE Jacks are back. Did they ever go away? Eight weeks had passed since the Sam Maguire holders concluded an erratic league campaign with defeat in Cork, their fourth of the campaign.

Dublin 2-22
Louth 0-12

In the intervening hiatus, we wondered aloud what Dublin team would take the field when championship battle commenced.

Would they have the same ravenous hunger that eludes so many outfits once they cross the Rubicon from challenger to champion? Would they be rusty against Louth? Maybe even stuck to the Croke Park turf?

Would they be -- whisper it softly -- vulnerable to a first round shock even more seismic than Dublin's previous day-one Leinster exit to Westmeath, eight long years ago?

In the event, Pat Gilroy's men were none of the above. Yes, they were hungry for ball and even more ravenous for scores. Scoring 2-22, 2-19 from play, is not suggestive of a team suffering from early-summer ring rust.

As for the shock-horror prospect of defeat by Peter Fitzpatrick's underdogs? Well, here was a case of unstoppable force meets eminently movable object -- Dublin went for the jugular, the Louth floodgates opened before half-time, and it all ended in facile 16-point victory.

Consolation

The only Louth consolation -- although that scarcely seems the appropriate word -- is that it could have been even worse.

Leaving aside Bernard Brogan's brace of goals in the dying minutes of the first half, we counted another five presentable Dublin goal chances that yielded just 0-2.

That ever-willing font of perpetual motion, otherwise known as Kevin McManamon, had to be satisfied with one fisted point on the rebound from a total of three goal chances -- he had one effort blocked on the line, another pulled inches wide, and a third saved by Neil Gallagher.

Then, in the final quarter, Diarmuid Connolly hit the butt of an upright while Denis Bastick -- a late midfield call-up for bike injury victim Michael Darragh Macauley -- found himself in rare one-on-one territory, inducing a routine tip-over save by Gallagher.

Thus, the final whistle sounded to barely audible acclaim, partly because there were only 31,530 in Headquarters and partly because the outcome had been decided almost a full hour earlier.

Dublin's reward is a semi-final date with opponents unknown on July 1, and doubtless Gilroy will keep a keen watching brief on the Wexford/Longford replay in Tullamore next Sunday.

Wexford are no strangers to Gilroy's Dubs. Based on yesterday's evidence, however, even if Jason Ryan's men progress, you would struggle to construct a logical argument for Slaneyside success at the third time of asking.

Back to yesterday. Given their fraught opening round victory over Westmeath, it was blindingly obvious that Louth needed to hit the ground running to have any chance here. And, to their credit, they carved open Dublin's defence after just five minutes only for Adrian Reid to shoot at a presentable height, allowing Stephen Cluxton to do what Stephen Cluxton does best.

Transformed

They trailed by a point at the time. Could a Louth goal then have transformed the course of this ultimately lopsided contest? We doubt it: Dublin simply had too much power in the tackle against a toothless Louth attack that tended to play as individuals, running into bodies and the almost inevitable dispossession that followed.

Then, once in possession, the champions set about plundering the myriad holes in a Louth defence that couldn't cope with the rapier pace, movement and interplay of McManamon, Connolly and the Brogan brothers.

Bernard -- who hadn't kicked a single ball for Dublin during an injury-disrupted spring -- resumed where he left off last September.

True, he missed the simplest of close-range frees off his weaker left foot, but the 2010 Footballer of the Year can be forgiven that aberration in the context of his overall contribution. He tallied 2-5, all bar one point from play; he also won his only pointed free and had three more assists for good measure.

Brogan's two goals, in the 34th minute and then first-half injury-time, catapulted Louth's flickering challenge into the realm of lost causes.

They were barely in touch on the half-hour, Darren Clarke's third free leaving them 0-8 to 0-3 adrift.

Two minutes later, Mark Brennan's ill-conceived hand-pass was intercepted by Paul Flynn whose spectacular kick from the right touchline registered as an early contender for Point of the Year.

This was duly followed by Alan Brogan's early audition for Pass of the Year -- his sublime delivery releasing Bernard, whose exquisite low finish did the rest.

Louth's waning resistance was now effectively broken. Two more points quickly followed before goal number two arrived: Gallagher and then a Louth defender denied Connolly and Brogan before the latter gobbled up the second rebound.

In the space of five whirlwind minutes, Dublin had scored an unanswered 2-3 to lead by 14 points -- 2-11 to 0-3 -- at the midpoint.

Now it was only a matter of by how much, and the gulf quickly extended to 17 points before Dublin, slightly and perhaps inevitably, eased off the accelerator. Hence a more balanced second half in scoreboard terms at least: the winners shaded it 11 points to nine.

Happy

Afterwards, Gilroy was happy to highlight some areas of managerial concern amid the scorefest, specifically the concession of scoreable frees through lazy defending and/or poor tackling technique.

He has a point -- up to a point. The equal likelihood is that he was trying to stave off any wilfully premature declarations that this year's All-Ireland is Dublin's to lose.

Overall, they were defensively adequate, with Michael Fitzsimons their standout back on his first Dublin start since early February, but it must be viewed in the context of a lightweight Louth attack.

It took 45 minutes for them to land their first point from play -- and that came via midfielder Ronan Carroll. Of their six starting forwards, Adrian Reid was the only one to score from play.

Contrast this with Dublin's front six -- they amassed 2-16 from play. Yesterday they carried the swagger of champions; we'll have to wait a while longer to see if they still have the substance.

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