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Sunday 22 July 2018

Another Sky Blue cruise ... now it gets serious

Dublin 1-25 Laois 0-10

Leinster leaders: Dublin's Brian Fenton celebrates with the Delaney Cup following the Leinster Football Final at Croke Park
Leinster leaders: Dublin's Brian Fenton celebrates with the Delaney Cup following the Leinster Football Final at Croke Park

You could say that the scoreline - another double-digit massacre - tells you everything about this latest Leinster final cruise for the greatest Dublin team ever.

What actually paints the full picture is all the things that nearly went right for Laois and which still couldn't prevent an 18-point margin at the final bell.

Consider the following, all of which should (in theory) have contributed to a closer final scoreline ...

(1) Dublin started without Stephen Cluxton in goals for the first time since 2004, thus ending an unbroken run of 81 SFC appearances. It made little discernible difference, as Evan Comerford (inset) dealt impressively with the first aerial missile that came his way, didn't have a save to make and was put under virtually no kickout pressure.

(2) The All-Ireland holders were most un-Dublin-like in their first half shot execution, amassing nine wides, the worst of which was a badly miscued Paul Mannion penalty after 20 minutes. All of which meant that they 'only' led by six at the break, 1-8 to 0-5.

(3) Even though Dublin's second half finishing (one injury-time Cormac Costello wide) was infinitely better, Jim Gavin will be mildly irked by their conversion of just one goal chance, finished by Ciarán Kilkenny with just over three minutes on the clock. We counted another seven, some more presentable than others, that were saved, illegally blocked or fired off target.

Bellyful

(4) A couple of Dublin defenders didn't enjoy their finest hour at HQ, most notably Philly McMahon who had his bellyful of Donal Kingston, in the first half especially. And yet it took Laois until garbage-time to creep into double-digits.

(5) By then Dublin were down a man following John Small's 57th minute strike into the face of Evan O'Carroll, who had fallen to the ground while claiming his own kickout. Not that you'd have noticed any difference: 14 men still outscored the faltering challengers by seven points to three.

(6) When losing boss John Sugrue reflects back on the opening 26 minutes, he may well conclude that the Laois game-plan was working - if not quite to perfection - then far better than most neutrals had predicted beforehand.

They only trailed by a point (1-3 to 0-5) and would even have led if Alan Farrell had capitalised with a goal instead of a point just seconds beforehand ... albeit he clearly wasn't helped by the angle of Donal Kingston's run, scuppering an obvious two-on-one.

Still, at that juncture, Laois must have been silently thrilled to be making this supposed Leinster final cakewalk an actual contest.

But they couldn't sustain it and the illusion didn't last.

Dublin steadied with 0-5 on the spin, removing any sour taste to their half-time cuppa.

Then on the resumption, after the holders had eased eight clear with four of the first six points, the match transformed from a vaguely intriguing battle of non-equals into a total mismatch.

After Kingston converted his own free in the 43rd minute, Laois wouldn't score again for another 25 minutes. In the interim, Dublin landed ten of their own.

And with that, after a game which showcased more than a few signs of fallibility, we had moved into familiar terrain - Dublin doing just enough to beat the handicap.

The final margin would stretch to 18 points, propelling their cumulative margin of victory in this year's Leinster SFC to a staggering 60 points - an average of 20 per game.

It's true that they didn't face a pumped-up Meath or a flying-fit Kildare along the way ... but whose fault is that?

Certainly not Dublin's; it is, rather, a further reflection on just how far the rest of Leinster has fallen off the jet-heeled Sky Blue pace.

Laois now become the latest would-be contender hoping to dust themselves down after a Dublin trimming in pursuit of unlikely 'back door' resurrection.

To their credit, several of their players excelled in the first half here. In the midst of displaying his familiar wanderlust traits, 'keeper Graham Brody led the resistance with a hat-trick of first half saves to deny Con O'Callaghan (the latter at the expense of a point); Brody followed up with the best stop of all to repel Jack McCaffrey at the end of an electrifying 44th minute run before he was forced off through injury.

Post-cruciate

His replacement, Eoghan Keogh, produced a similar save to deny McCaffrey, whose second post-cruciate cameo will surely push him even closer to a starting recall for their 'Super 8' opener against Ulster champions Donegal, on the weekend of July 14/15.

Costello also delivered a timely reminder to his boss with a livewire 0-4 off the bench, albeit Laois were heading for freefall as the Whitehall Colmcille man went to town.

So Dublin amble into a new and exciting last-eight arena, yet to break sweat, while Leinster is given the last rites. Again.

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