Domination and Orchestration: Kilkenny Shows No Let Up In Standards
If anyone expected standards to drop under the new tenure of Dublin Manager, Dessie Farrell, it certainly didn’t look like it. A spirited display by Westmeath in appalling conditions at O’Moore Park in last night's crowd-free Leinster Championship kept the game entertaining and competitive - if not somewhat inevitable after a very strong start by Dublin.
Despite excellent performances from Westmeath’s John Heslin and arguably point of the game from midfielder, Ray Connellan, the midlanders just couldn’t match the game management, skill, pace and tenacity from Dessie Farrell’s charges.
Indeed by the 42nd minute of the game, James McCarthy became the 10th Dublin player to score. By his own calculations, Sky Sports pundit, Jim McGuiness, pointed out that up until the second water break, Dublin had scored every 2 and a half minutes.
A case in point was stalwart defender, Jonny Cooper, who put in a magnificent display in the backline.
By the 18th minute, Cooper had racked up 10 possessions and his first half was topped by a beautifully taken point following a run from deep.
Cooper continued to perform with the same manic intensity throughout and smothered a shot late in the game with a brilliant block. Dublin were 11 points up at that stage. You can neither buy nor inspire that kind of commitment. This was Cooper at his brave-heart best.
Brian Fenton displayed all the elegance and poise we have come to expect from the best midfielder in the country. One audacious, Connolly-esque pass in particular, right through the heart of the defence to Kilkenny, rang out like a shot in the night sky.
If the empire is to fall in 2020, it won’t be taken easily. Sentinels stand in the way.
Key to a successful Gavin-Farrell transition will be to maintain impeccable standards. Gameplan evolution and the continuous improvement that we have seen over the past 7 years simply must endure.
Cluxton, Cooper, Fenton, McCarthy, Fitzsimons and Rock will lead in their roles as custodians of Dublin’s history-making team culture, but tonight it was Castleknock’s favourite son, Ciarán Kilkenny, who orchestrated the game from start to finish.
Like the most magnificent of Beethoven symphonies, Kilkenny conducted the orchestra with 26 possessions from centre forward. He was simply imperious with a Man of the Match performance and 5 points from play, including one gorgeous point in the first half where he dummy-soloed, not once but twice, to angle the ball sweetly over the bar.
One of the most promising performances from a Dublin perspective came from Paddy Small. His displays in the Dublin Club Championship were pivotal to Ballymun’s success this year and Dessie Farrell rewarded him here with a starting position at corner forward.
Pushing into a full forward line with Paul Mannion, Con O’Callaghan, Dean Rock and Cormac Costello will be no mean feat but the younger of the Small brothers acquitted himself superbly last night with 2 points from play. Could this be his breakout year?
Sean Buglar too has shown glimpses of real class in this year’s National League and last year’s Championship. He scored a cracking goal against Galway in the last game of the league and backed it up here with two points from play. Although he’s been limited to cameo roles so far, Buglar looks like the kind of player that won’t be kept out of the first 15 for long. The question is; who does he replace?
It’s a healthy and familiar problem for Dublin. With so much young talent coming through from successful teams that he managed at underage level, Dessie Farrell has a huge opportunity to stamp his own authority on the team and forge a new future while blending the old and the new.
In his post match Man of the Match interview, it was almost comical to hear Ciarán Kilkenny say ”a couple of us older lads are pushing on”. You can understand why he might say this. He is, after all, a veteran of no less than 8 Championships with 6 All Ireland medals and 5 National League titles to his name, but in reality he’s only…. 27!
You're not over the hill yet, Ciarán, not by a long stretch. There's a Dublin team to captain when Clucko retires. You'll be it.
The championship has an odd feel to it this year: no crowds, no Diarmo, no Berno, no Jack Mac. The summer sun has been replaced by a winter chill and the long shadow of COVID. There’ll be nothing odder than the sight of Sam Maguire being presented in December, just a few weeks before Christmas.
Pandemic or not, the flames atop the three castles of the Dublin crest are still burning brightly. There’s much to look forward to.