Sunday 19 November 2017

No panic as Dubs pruned

Gilroy's positive spin after his experimental side is sunk by sharper Lilywhites

GIDDY headline writers salivating at the prospect of a "Sky Blues shocked!" banner headline, coupled with an explanatory sub-head revealing an early-season crisis for the All-Ireland champions, should take a deep breath ... and come up with a slightly less excitable plan.

So then, nothing to report from Newbridge? No, don't put words in our laptop: we had plenty of frenzied action, the odd melee and two red cards to boot.

It's just that Kildare's six-point victory over Dublin at a noisy St Conleth's Park was, strange as this may seem, entirely predictable.

It's true that both sides are currently missing plenty of regulars, but Dublin have experimented more this month and the respective line-ups told as much.

More tellingly, Kildare seem a lot further advanced in preparation for the upcoming Allianz League -- their emphatic dismissals of DIT and Offaly (especially) suggested a squad well primed in defence of the only trophy they've won on Kieran McGeeney's watch, the now Bord na Mona-sponsored O'Byrne Cup.

Then you had the final X factor: Kildare needed to beat Dublin more than Dublin needed to put one over the Lilies again.

All of which contributed to an ultimately straight-forward 1-11 to 0-8 victory for the boys in white.

Consequently, all roads lead back to Newbridge next Sunday for the final against DCU. Last January, at the same venue, Kildare dethroned the then-holders with something to spare.

This time around, it would take a brave (or foolhardy) punter to back against the same result, given that DCU open their Sigerson Cup campaign against Cork IT just two days later.

In that scenario, it's hard to conceive Niall Moyna playing all his aces just 48 hours beforehand.

Back to yesterday's action. Dublin clung on to Lilywhite coat-tails for almost three-quarters of a lively contest -- albeit one replete with errors -- but then Ronan Sweeney's expertly placed 47th-minute penalty put four-point daylight between the sides.

Soon after, the gap was out to six. From then on, it was only a matter of by how much.

"It (the penalty) definitely put a wee bit of space between us but we seemed to be in control before that," McGeeney suggested.

"But, you know, Dublin were only experimenting; they were only just coming back for a few of their players. I wouldn't be reading too much into it," he added.

Incredibly, this was Dublin's first Newbridge date with Kildare since 1994, but McGeeney refuted the notion that his team needed to set the record straight after recent close encounters of the painful kind, in 2009 and last summer.

"It seems to be more important for youse than it was for me. There seemed to be a lot of writing about it," the Armagh man demurred.

"For the players at this time of the year it's all about staking a place (for the league opener) against Tyrone, to try and keep the jersey. They know how it operates: if you play well at training you get in, if you keep playing well you stay in."

Pat Gilroy was inclined to take almost as many positives as his victorious counterpart. Reflecting on their three-game campaign, he pronounced himself satisfied that "a lot of fellas are after getting their first taste of playing with Dublin."

Focusing on yesterday, the Dublin boss was "happy enough" with the effort but added: "We were probably a bit heavy-legged at times and that's fine -- we are preparing for the league. You have to take these games as they come and, in fairness, Kildare were a lot sharper than us.

"They missed a lot as well, so the final score probably wasn't fair to them in the end."

The 12-6 wide count backs up Gilroy's honest assessment. Kildare also had seven different scorers from play, the visitors just three.

Countering that, Dublin created a few second-half goal openings, but Paddy Andrews was denied by Shane Connolly's sharp reflexes, Bryan Cullen fizzed a half-chance narrowly over, while Peter Kelly (back in fine fettle after his cruciate-enforced 'gap' year) produced a brilliant diving block to deny Kevin McManamon.

Despite playing against a fresh breeze, Kildare shaded the first half with Brian Flanagan to the fore at wing-back, Sweeney driving on dynamically from midfield, the scoreless Tomás O'Connor causing some aerial havoc and Alan Smith sniping three points, two from play.

They duly led 0-5 to 0-4 at the break. That promising augury was negated by the loss of Eoghan O'Flaherty to a second yellow on the half-hour.

McGeeney painted O'Flaherty's dismissal -- two challenges and two bookings -- as a "wee bit harsh" but the Carbury clubman was his own worst enemy.

His first yellow was blatant -- hand-tripping Darren Daly after he had fumbled away possession -- while his second sliding tackle on Andrews was rash in the circumstances. Dublin's numerical advantage didn't last long. On the restart, Paul Brogan could be deemed slightly unfortunate for his first yellow (blocking Ollie Lyons's path after the corner-back had offloaded) but then came a high tackle into James Kavanagh's upper chest; cue a second flash of yellow and red.

Two minutes later -- and not for the first time -- O'Connor soared highest to claim a long delivery, this time from the boot of lively sub Hugh McGrillen. He was still outnumbered but Seán Murray couldn't resist making a tackle he probably could have avoided.

Sweeney nailed the resultant penalty and, with his partner Daryl Flynn now assuming the role of dominant midfielder, Kildare were almost home and hosed.

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