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Dessie's Dub juggernaut ruins royals

Leinster SFC final: Dublin 3-21 Meath 0-9

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Dean Rock of Dublin shoots to score his side’s first goal during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Dean Rock of Dublin shoots to score his side’s first goal during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Dean Rock of Dublin shoots to score his side’s first goal during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

A night of history in Dublin's theatre of dreams, harking back to when the old Croke Park lay witness to the horrors of 1920.

A nightmare of historic levels for Meath, left to assess the wreckage of a record-breaking defeat. Where, oh where, do you go from here?

While Stephen Cluxton led his ten-in-a-row troops to lay a wreath at the Bloody Sunday memorial, Meath's total evisceration called to mind a different year from the distant past.

The 1955 Leinster final ended in a 5-12 to 0-7 defeat for the Royals, then All-Ireland holders, against a ground-breaking Dublin that included Kevin Heffernan as an inside forward with licence to roam.

That 20-point loss stood as a head-to-head record for 65 years, until the 73rd minute on Saturday when Kevin McManamon's shot after a marathon solo run forced a save from Mark Brennan, only for Niall Scully to gobble up the rebound.

Dublin's third goal at the end of a desultory second half made it a 21-point game, a new benchmark in this, their 64th SFC meeting. In truth, the damage had all been done before half-time, Dean Rock's eighth minute goal kickstarting an unbroken chain of 2-10 before the break, stretching to 2-11 before Thomas O'Reilly's free ended a 35-minute scoring famine.

Ghost

When the chasm is so vast, the hardest thing to quantify is how much of this was due to Dublin brilliance and how much to Meath almost giving up the ghost?

First the acclaim: this was Dublin at their best (to date) under Dessie Farrell. The voracity of their tackling set the tone. Meath's sporadic attacks were met by a suffocating blue wall while they put a relentless squeeze on

Brennan's first half restarts, winning eight. Even when Meath went short and retained it, the ball-carrier was immediately hounded.

This alone wouldn't have secured a 16-point lead at the midpoint if Dublin weren't so ruthless. Their shooting wasn't flawless - check out six first half wides - but by then all six forwards had scored from play. Con O'Callaghan even roamed into midfield (a la Heffernan) to catch three of Cluxton's laser-guided restarts.

The first of those led directly to Rock's goal, as O'Callaghan and the equally influential Niall Scully and Brian Fenton combined in a mesmerising blur for Dublin's all-time top scorer to calmly slot home.

Yet, for O'Callaghan's second kickout claim, there wasn't a green jersey in sight. It wasn't the only example of Meath heads either being too frazzled, or hearts too demoralised, to keep pace.

Consider the second of Ciarán Kilkenny's four points: Robbie McDaid had too much time to pick his pass inside, and likewise Kilkenny to take aim with Séamus Lavin standing yards off his man.

On 23 minutes Meath's soft centre was shredded again: this time Seán Bugler poured through the gap and fed McDaid who, even as he fell, returned the gift for Bugler to fist home.

By then, Meath had engineered two half-chances for goal but even these encapsulated the gulf, not just in class but mindset. In the first minute, Cillian O'Sullivan's pirouetting run briefly opened up Dublin but when he passed inside, Bryan McMahon needed to shoot instantly. He didn't; in a flash Cluxton and a posse of defenders swamped him.

At least McMahon's delayed pass yielded a Bryan Menton point … but when given a subsequent glimpse of goal, Menton was quickly bottled up and hooked a dispiriting wide.

This was the story of the night: Dublin were too fast, too focussed, too ferocious. All of this delighted Farrell, while he caveated that Meath, so gluttonous for goals in the earlier rounds, were "off the boil".

"We knew we'd have to step it up for a Leinster final and, based on what we'd seen from Meath, they were coming in very confident, had been bagging a lot of goals, were on the crest of a wave," the Dublin boss surmised. "So it was definitely going to focus the minds, for sure. I think we saw a pretty decent and focused performance from us tonight."

And yet Meath were so far adrift of this stellard standard that a crestfallen Andy McEntee must wonder where he can go in year five, if there is one. "We got punished every time we made an error and we just weren't up to the pitch of the game," he conceded.

The Meath manager was at a loss to explain why this was so, and couldn't figure out if this was as good as Dublin have been. "The level of performance from us wasn't what I'd expect so it's probably hard to judge really," he admitted.

Mystified

The only black mark for Dublin was the late red for Cormac Costello, who looked mystified when Derek O'Mahony dispatched the Dublin sub on the word of a linesman for 'verbals' over a disputed line ball.

Soon after, Bugler clutched his hamstring after firing over another goal chance, but Farrell assured that it was "just a touch of cramp".

It will take more than cramp to halt the juggernaut. Yes, they were hot favourites in 1955 when shocked by Kerry. As they were in 2014 when they also routed Meath only to be ambushed by Donegal. But, right now, they look unstoppable.


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