Thursday 21 February 2019

A Sky Blue cruise with a glimpse of life without Cluxton

Dublin 2-25 Longford 0-12

ON TARGET: Paul Mannion celebrates after scoring Dublin’s second goal against Longford in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
ON TARGET: Paul Mannion celebrates after scoring Dublin’s second goal against Longford in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

As ever with Leinster SFC cakewalks involving unstoppable Dubs and outclassed midland minnows, the best post-match quotes invariably come from the losing manager.

For Jim Gavin, this was another case of job done, move onto the next round.

For those of us who crave that extinct entity called a competitive Leinster senior football championship, yesterday's 19-point demolition of a brave but limited and ultimately overwhelmed Longford felt like another exercise in futility. Can we not just be done with it and send Dublin straight to the 'Super 8s'?

But in the lopsided world in which we live, where Wicklow and Longford co-exist in the same competition as Dublin while occupying totally different stratospheres, this is what we have. Or, as the politicians with no bright ideas are wont to remind us, we are where we are.

So it was left to losing boss Denis Connerton to wax lyrical about this staggeringly good Dublin football team while lamenting the impossibility of their plight once reduced to 14 men after just 21 minutes following a straight red card for James McGivney.

​"We tried not to change our game plan," said Connerton of their mostly orthodox tactical set-up. "We knew what we were facing - one of the greatest teams of this era. I refer to Dublin as the Real Madrid (of Gaelic football), they're an absolutely outstanding team.

"The last thing we needed was to go down to 14 men but that was the way it was. It was a massive, massive battle for us after that. It was uphill from the start but after that it was very difficult for us."

McGivney was dismissed by Maurice Deegan for a dangerous late 'tackle' on the airborne Stephen Cluxton, who had just punched the ball clear only to be caught with a crunching hit as he returned to earth.

Cluxton initially picked himself up quickly before the extent of the impact made it obvious that he was unfit to continue.


From our vantage point in the Hogan Stand, it seemed the correct call. Even Connerton didn't make a meal out of the red card. "I only got the initial look," the Longford boss said. "I didn't see the replays. I'm biased, so there's no point in saying I'm not. I felt that maybe I think ... I wouldn't have sent him off!"

EYES ON THE BALL: Kevin McManamon of Dublin in action against Patrick Fox of Longford during the Leinster SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: SPORTSFILE
EYES ON THE BALL: Kevin McManamon of Dublin in action against Patrick Fox of Longford during the Leinster SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Cluxton's replacement by Evan Comerford was announced as a temporary switch, which effectively meant Dublin were free to empty their bench six more times with permanent substitutions, even though their skipper never returned.

The first hint of life after Clucko? Perhaps, if only because it has been so long since we've seen a different Dublin 'keeper in summer combat.

It was the first time the 36-year-old has been forced out of a championship contest through injury. The last SFC game he missed was that ill-fated Leinster quarter-final against Westmeath back in 2004, arising from a suspension carried over from his red card against Armagh in a 2003 qualifier - the last SFC encounter until yesterday where Cluxton has started but not finished a game.

Until his fitness situation is clarified, there's bound to be a minor question mark over his readiness for the Leinster final against Laois on June 24. Not that this will cause any juxtaposition of roles between red-hot favourite and rank outsider.

Dublin are so far ahead of the chasing provincial pack right now that they have almost perfected the art of doing just enough to beat the handicap.

They had 23 points to spare against Wicklow when many bookies had the handicap at 22; it was 17 or 18 against Longford yesterday and they edged ahead of that courtesy of two injury-time points from Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny.

That brought their individual tallies to 0-4 apiece from play, and yet neither of Dublin's new brand leaders played with quite the same compelling flourish that they had earlier displayed against Wicklow.

Yet how can you argue with 0-4 from a midfielder who does so much more than score? Fenton actually hit Dublin's first two wides so it could conceivably have been 0-6.

In total, they registered just four wides - not quite as efficient as Carlow's recently flawless strike rate against Kildare, but still mightily impressive.

On the flip side, they would have quadrupled their goal haul if they had been more ruthless, in the second half especially. Philly McMahon failed to connect with an early chance; Eric Lowndes skewed another one wide; then, in the second half, Dean Rock rattled the crossbar in the midst of a hat-trick of Paddy Collum saves to deny Paul Mannion, Michael Darragh Macauley and Colm Basquel.

As it was, after seven different players had pointed inside 12 minutes, Dublin had to be satisfied with two second-quarter goals. Rock deftly palmed home the first, on 18 minutes, after Longford lost their own kickout and Michael Darragh Macauley ran hard at their defence to create the opening.

Then, in the 24th minute, Liam Connerton was turned over by a Paul Mannion tackle close to his own goalmouth. Mannion's bullet finish did the rest, even though Collum got a flailing hand to it.

Thus, having trailed by 0-8 to 0-4 at the end of the first quarter, Longford found themselves 12 adrift (2-10 to 0-4) some ten minutes later - and a man down.


By half-time it was 2-13 to 0-7. To their credit, Longford outscored Dublin by 0-5 to 0-3 for the first 20 minutes of a forgettable second half ... but they failed to score again as their legs turned to rubber and Dublin hit them for an unanswered 0-9.

"We're absolutely drained after that game. Our lads put as much as they possibly could into it," said Connerton.

And Dublin? "They're some team, they're so economical in their shooting and they're so economical ​with their passing. All you can do is admire them."

And envy them.

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