Monday 18 December 2017

This is football at a different level

MEATH arrived in Croke Park yesterday with the usual confidence and belief that they could beat the Dubs - and who could blame them after getting so close in last year's corresponding fixture?

What transpired was a sobering experience for Mick O'Dowd's men, who were completely dismantled by a Dublin team which seems to be getting better and more ruthless, despite the fact that there is huge pressure on them to continue winning games.

From a Dublin perspective this victory will go down as one of our most satisfying performances against our greatest rivals and one of the most one-sided contests that I can remember.

It was as comprehensive as it gets and will send a clear message to all teams that there is absolutely no complacency within the squad and work rate is, in many ways, greater than it was last year.

The football being played by this Dublin team is as good as any other team in decades and that includes the great Kerry teams over the years. It is a style of play that is almost impossible to play against and when you have great footballers who are prepared to work their socks off, then the recipe for success is in place.


The victory means that Dublin have lost just one game in the province since 2004 which is a remarkable achievement and one that no other Dublin team has come close to matching.

Nine titles in ten years sets them up for another quarter-final and will give them a huge boost in confidence in their quest for back to back All-Irelands.

Meath, on the other hand, must lick their gaping wounds and somehow get their collective heads around the qualifiers - otherwise the season will end with overall disappointment, despite some positives.

They will be hurting today but if they look at this defeat constructively, then they will realise that this Dublin team is something special and are capable of destroying most teams if given a sniff.

To have any chance of beating Dublin, you need to limit Stephen Claxton's influence by disrupting his kick-outs and you also need to stop them scoring goals and yesterday Meath failed to do either.

Easier said than done, of course, because the movement out the field is incredible. The Dubs scored three goals and could have added another three or four more with some sublime kick-passing and unselfishness in front of the Meath goal.

Three goals and 20 points is a massive tally but credit must also go to the defence who were in complete control and for me it was one of the best displays in a long time.

The full back line of Philly McMahon, Rory O'Carroll and Mick Fitzsimons were outstanding throughout and Fitzsimons in particular did a great marking job on Stephen Bray. Jim Gavin will be delighted that he did so well because it gives him another defensive option.

The half-back line too was very solid and before the second half throw-in, two of Meath's best forwards, Damien Carroll and Graham Reilly, were substituted.

That left Meath a little light up front and it was no surprise that they could only mange five scores in the second half. In reality the game was up for them as they went in at the break.

Down by nine points certainly wasn't in the script and with so many outstanding Dublin players waiting to be unleashed, the writing was on the wall.

The first of the changes saw Cormac Costello introduced for the second period and again his contribution was huge. His work-rate and willingness to run directly make him very difficult to mark.

He was involved in one of the best moves in the game, which very nearly ended up in the back of the net. Collecting a ball deep in his own half he offloaded and ran hard towards the Meath goal and after a terrific foot pass from Dean Rock, O'Gara quickly offloaded to Costello, who had made up at least eighty meters.

It would have been one of the greatest team goals of the year but fortunately for Meath, Paddy O'Rourke was there to deny the St Colmcille's star.

There were, of course, other great movements and performances and no better individual performance than that put in by Kevin McManamon. He is having a great year from a starting position this time and another good performance will surely secure a first All-Star award later in the year.


The focus for now will be to continue performing and improving, as any drop in standard will see someone else getting in. That is Dublin's greatest strength at present and will ensure that no player takes his foot off the gas over the next couple of months.

The work also continues to bear front at underage level, with the minors easing past Kildare and they seem to be coming into some form at the right time. They will be difficult to beat but anything can happen at that level.

The championship now heads for the August weekend, where the games will be tighter and the pressure will be greater as the competition reaches the knock-out stages with no second chance.

Dublin are by far the best team in the country and it will take something special to beat them. It remains to be seen if there is a team out there with a game plan to trouble them.

I don't buy into the opinion that the blanket defence can trouble the Dubs as they are all very good footballers and, more importantly, have the game intelligence to break down any system of play.

Yesterday was a great day to be a Dub but the defeat will stay with the Meath supporters for a long time to come.

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