Lilies wilt in face of Dublin power play
Dublin 2-17 Kildare 2-10
The words of Cian O'Neill, uttered less than a fortnight earlier, sprung to mind while watching his Kildare team cave in during the third quarter at Croke Park on Saturday night.
"In a few minutes of madness, we conceded two soft goals because the top teams can be ruthless when they need to be," O'Neill had said at the Allianz League launch, harking back to the Leinster final. "So, we'll learn. It could be the hard way, it could be just by progression."
Looks like the hard way.
Saturday night's double-whammy came much later than last July's - Dean Rock after 44 minutes, Brian Fenton from the very next kickout - but it was eerily reminiscent.
Here was one team of champions going for the jugular at the first scent of blood ... and another team of pretenders getting plenty right until the temperature gauge is turned up and heads are scrambled.
"A self-fulfilling prophesy!" O'Neill agreed ruefully, reminded of his previous comments.
"But it's true. They (Dublin) reminded me of Kilkenny (hurlers), in the noughties, where they don't just bang in one, they bang in two - ruthlessly and efficiently, in a very short period of time, and put games to bed.
"But we need to take responsibility for our actions."
The Kildare boss reckoned both goals were "solvable" but there is no easy road map for a team readjusting to life in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League. The good news for Kildare? They won't be facing the Dubs every week ...
As for the All-Ireland champions, just how good were they?
Depends on what period you wish to dissect. In the first half they betrayed the signs of ring-rust you might expect from a team not long back from South Africa and just a couple of weeks into full training mode.
But Jim Gavin "wouldn't use that as an excuse. We trained well for two weeks. I think the players have shown an incredible desire since we've been back ... there's a great spirit and intent about them again, which amazes me with that group. I just thought Kildare played very well (in the first half)."
They were facilitated by wavering concentration in Dublin's defence, most glaringly exposed by Luke Flynn's ninth minute goal, the midfielder ghosting into glorious isolation to gather a speculative high shot from Paul Cribbin.
Daniel Flynn later added a brace of points that, on another night, might have resulted in a couple of goals.
At the other end Rock missed two of his four frees. Bernard Brogan, given a chance to prove he's still first-15 material, sniped a sharp left-footed point but otherwise saw very little ball.
Nor was the ball running for Colm Basquel who was also caught on his heels when Eoin Doyle fly-kicked a clearance straight to Flynn for one of his points/wasted goal chance. Brian Howard set up a point for the lively Ciarán Kilkenny in an otherwise fitful first half to his league debut.
Thus, Kildare led by 1-6 to 0-7 at the midpoint. They should have led by more. And then their world caved in.
You can cite multiple reasons. Brian Fenton is the obvious starting point: he was already motoring before the break, winning a mark that led to Kilkenny's second point and then leaving two Lilies in his wake for a point of his own ... but on the restart he landed another quickfire brace and it was manifestly clear that Dublin were in a different zone.
Focussed. Rapacious in pursuit of the Kildare kickout. And mad for plunder.
What about ruthless, as the losing boss suggested? Well, yes and know. Niall Scully especially and Rock will wonder how they miscued with the Hill goal beckoning before Rock (clinically) and Fenton (emphatically) hit the bullseye.The match-altering damage stemmed partially from a Kildare kickout meltdown but the instigator-in-chief was Brogan.
He displayed wonderful vision to release Scully; cunning to win the next short restart and force a Mark Donnellan save that led to Rock's wasted rebound; and finally the softest of hands to off-load superbly for both goals.
All told, Dublin hit an unanswered 2-5 in the first 14 minutes after half-time and it should have been 4-5. With the team in full pomp, Howard (0-2) and Basquel (0-3) visibly grew in confidence and shared five second half points.
It was only late on that Dublin's concentration dipped, contributing to three Eamonn O'Callaghan frees and a spectacular garbage-time goal from Daniel Flynn.
Shortly before the damn burst, key midfielder Kevin Feely had shipped a knock to the head for which Michael Darragh Macauley was booked. O'Neill wasn't best pleased, claiming: "Maybe that's what the best teams do better than what we do."
But he was just as keen to dissect Kildare's own shortcomings, citing a 32pc score conversion in the first half as "really disappointing".
"I don't think that would have necessarily changed the outcome of the match," he concluded, "because Dublin were always going to come back in the second half. I mean, they're not All-Ireland champions for nothing."
SCORERS - Dublin: B Fenton 1-3, D Rock 1-2 (2f), C Basquel 0-3, C Kilkenny, N Scully, B Howard 0-2 each, B Brogan, J Small, K McManamon 0-1 each. Kildare: D Flynn 1-2, L Flynn 1-0, E Callaghan 0-3f, K Feely 0-2f, N Flynn (f), P Cribbin, M Donnellan (f) 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, D Daly; J Cooper, J McCarthy, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; N Scully, C Kilkenny, B Howard; C Basquel, D Rock, B Brogan. Subs: K McManamon for Macauley (46), E Lowndes for Cooper (51), P Mannion for Rock (55), P McMahon for Fitzsimons (55), C O'Shea for Daly (59), P Andrews for Brogan (60).
KILDARE: M Donnellan; D Hyland, M O'Grady, P Kelly; J Byrne, E Doyle, C O'Donoghue; K Feely, L Flynn; F Conway, C Healy, P Cribbin; N Flynn, D Flynn, C McNally. Subs: D Slattery for N Flynn (inj 5), N Kelly for Healy (BC 20), T Moolick for Conway (51), B McCormack for L Flynn (56), E Callaghan for Feely (61), M Hyland for P Kelly (61).
WIDES: Dublin 7 (4+3); Kildare 9 (6+3). YELLOW: Dublin 2 (Basquel 8, Macauley 39); Kildare 2 (Doyle 10, N Kelly 35+2). BLACK: Kildare 1 (Healy 20).
REF: C Lane (Cork). ATT: 26,027.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Brian Fenton (Dublin).