Thursday 20 September 2018

'Con' job is the real deal - and so are Dublin

Kildare can take solace but this was a salutary lesson

Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton denies Kildare’s Daniel Flynn from point-blank range during yesterday’s Leinster SFC Final at Croke Park. Pics: Sportsfile
Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton denies Kildare’s Daniel Flynn from point-blank range during yesterday’s Leinster SFC Final at Croke Park. Pics: Sportsfile
Philip McMahon with Kyah O’Reilly after the match
Con O’Callaghan of Dublin converts a free against Kildare at Croke Park yesterday

One of the drawbacks to being such a thoroughly successful team is that you judge them on different standards to everyone else.

And maybe we're all guilty of that with Dublin.

So today we should salute Jim Gavin's team for what they are ... and that's a sublimely brilliant football team in the midst of making history at every conceivable turn.

Already this season they have established an all-time benchmark by extending their unbeaten league and championship streak to 36 games ... so let's not quibble that Kerry finally ended the run last April.

Last month they had resident Croke Park 'stattos' scratching their collective heads wondering when was the last time a team had scored 4-29 in a championship game, if ever, while winning by 31 points.

After yesterday, we know this for certain: Dublin are the first county to win seven consecutive Leinster SFC titles.

Even in an era when this competition has been discredited by its one-horse-race reputation, this is a landmark of no mean significance. And they achieved it with a performance of substance decorated with oodles of style.

When Anthony Nolan whistled for the last time, the full-time audit would show a final margin of nine points - 2-23 to 1-17.

Thus, Kildare become the first provincial rival since Meath in the 2013 Leinster final to stay within single digits of the Dubs.

Eleven Leinster (mis)matches running, Gavin's marauders had streaked into the double-digit distance ... but for all their defensive weaknesses and dodgy periods yesterday, Kildare deserved to buck that trend. Just about.

More of their game resistance, crowned by Paddy Brophy's injury-time goal, later.

The nine-point margin would have been 11 if Wicklow referee Nolan had delayed his penultimate whistle ... instead he called back for an original (blatant) foul on the ever-influential Ciarán Kilkenny after the first advantage failed to deliver a goal for Paul Mannion, whose delight at firing home the rebound proved shortlived.

Not that it mattered: this was that rare event of a Leinster final that delivered both an emphatic Dublin triumph and a performance from that losers that offers guarded optimism for the future, both immediate and long-term.

Instead of Mannion's scratched 'goal' we had a tap-over free from Con O'Callaghan. Incredibly, it was his 12th point of a stellar afternoon during which the Cuala prodigy confirmed his arrival as a luminous talent of the here-and-now, and a forward who could well play a pivotal role in their charge towards that hoped-for All-Ireland hat-trick.

O'Callaghan took aim on 13 occasions; just one of his second half efforts fell short. His 12 points included six from play, arrowed over with consistently lethal effect off either foot - two during Dublin's ultimately decisive first-quarter onslaught, four in the second period when he was thrillingly in the zone.

He also proved a deadly freetaking deputy for Dean Rock, whose joy at scoring Dublin's first goal turned sour after 23 minutes. It was all relatively harmless but, by the letter of the draw, his hand-trip on Mick O'Grady could be deemed a black-card offence.

At the time, Kildare were in the early stages of a defiant second-quarter fightback. Any suspicion, though, that Rock's dismissal would prove a godsend for the underdogs was quickly shattered by (a) O'Callaghan's flawless exhibition as his deadball stand-in (six from six) and (b) by the performance of Bernard Brogan off the bench.

It wasn't merely that Brogan tallied 0-5 from five shots on goal; it was the sharpness of his movement and the calmness of his execution, sometimes with a Kildare defender diving at his laces.

The message to his boss could not have been more clearcut: "I want my place back." On this form, he deserves it.

As for Kildare, they started like men possessed (a Daniel Flynn point after 22 seconds; a spurned Tommy Moolick goal chance from their next attack). But once Dublin found their feet and their range, the challengers would pay a huge price for going defensively AWOL.

During a match-shaping 60 seconds, they allowed Rock ghost onto Kilkenny's looping handpass for his tenth minute goal - and were similarly unhinged by O'Callaghan's delivery to James McCarthy, who completed the one-two with a clinical dispatch that belied his defensive roots.

Midway through the half, Kildare trailed by 2-4 to 0-1 and it would have been worse but for a necklace of five Dublin wides.

But, to their eternal credit, they regrouped and when Cathal McNally ended a barren 20-minute period, he kickstarted a run of nine points in 15 minutes.

Kevin Feely's injury-time score made it a four-point game (2-8 to 0-10). The Kildare No 8 was heroic not just in his shooting (0-5, 4f) but in his soaring influence at the kickout: his fingerprints were all over four 'marks' plus another three restarts.

Sadly, his day would end prematurely for a 63rd minute black card, having checked the run of Jack McCaffrey, which leaves him facing a one-match ban for cumulative 'blacks' this season.

By then, though, the Delaney Cup was going nowhere except back to Donnycarney.

Would it have been different if - trailing by six points - Flynn had nailed his 42nd minute goal chance when one-on-on with Stephen Cluxton?

Only in the margin of victory, perhaps. Dublin were never going to lose this.

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