Updated: Jun 29, 2019
Dublin win nine in a row Leinster titles, something never before achieved by any other football team in the history of GAA, but it’s the warriors of 2011 and 2013 who are pushing hardest for places.
It was a strange and at times difficult game to watch. On a day when both defences started well and the scoreboard froze, for a while it looked like we might have a game on our hands.
But it wasn’t to be.
Meath were like lambs to the slaughter as Croke Park became an abattoir for the luckless, toothless Royals. Tamely, they bleated, as Dublin ripped them asunder with casual nonchalance, lions feasting on a morsel. Blood was let, Dublin devoured.
We cheered on like good Roman citizens because we love our boys in blue and all they have achieved, but truthfully, this was like gladiators butchering hapless Christian preachers in a half empty colosseum. Not much to see here, certainly not a contest for the ages like it used to be.
This was less a case of Dublin playing superbly – although there were sublime moments from Jim Gavin’s charges – it was more a case of a complete systems failure as the Meath attack stuttered, gasped, wheezed, and finally, just collapsed.
This was footballing emphysema and Meath were in the emergency ward.
Jesus, we even felt sorry for them…well, almost.
There was no great joy in watching this dismal performance by the Meathmen. Andy McEntee, former All-Ireland winning manager with Ballyboden St Enda’s, is nobody’s fool and he understands Dublin football intimately, but he looked visibly shell shocked after the game. He’s a man who has done all that was expected of him in getting Meath promoted to Division 1 and defeating all other challengers in Leinster. And yet, there it was…a 16 point demolition in a Leinster Final with his name on it.
It was a bad day to be a Royal.
Dublin weren’t good in the first half and looked decidedly uninterested. 5 points was a surprisingly low return from the blistering Dublin attack that had accumulated 5-47 against Kildare and Louth in the first two rounds of the Leinster Championship.
Credit where it is due though, it wasn’t just Dublin playing in second gear, the Meath full back line fought tigerishly in the first half, frustrating Cormac Costello twice in the first ten minutes and foiled subsequent surging forays from James McCarthy and Jack McCaffrey. When a fight broke out midway through the first half, a throwback to the mad old days of Dublin Vs Meath games past, it looked like anything could have happened.
But no, it all petered out quite tamely in the end.
With just 3 points from play in over 70 minutes of football, this was the poorest performance by a Meath team in living memory.
The result raises inevitable questions about the antiquated structure of the championship but that’s for another day. Dublin can only play what’s in front of them and they finished the second half with customary aplomb.
Realistically, in the early rounds of the Championship, the Dublin team are not playing the opposition; they are playing against each other for places. And the competition is ferocious.
Paul Mannion’s 3 points from play, including a thing of sublime beauty from out near the Cusack Stand sideline, earned him a Man of the Match award despite missing a first half penalty (his second in two successive Leinster finals, he joked afterwards, with typical good nature). It was a safe option from the RTE pundits.
A bolder choice for best on ground could easily have gone to Jack McCaffrey whose blistering pace left his Meath opponents for dead as he skipped through the defensive lines and picked off two hand fisted points. On a dryer day, he would have had three.
Another contender was Philly McMahon who was back to his brilliant best. Alert to the ball at all times and strong in the air, he gave Paul Mannion an audacious, waist-high 30m pass through traffic off the outside of his boot. He backed it up in the second half with a Connolly-esque point from just inside the 45m line. It was a stunning return to form for the Ballymun man and Hill 16 favourite.
Philly had a tough summer last year when his father, Phil McMahon, finally lost his battle with cancer - it was a mark of the man’s resilience that he made it through the All Ireland at all. On Sunday, however, you got the impression that he was keener than ever to reclaim his place for a tilt at seven All Ireland medals. Only a fool would doubt him.
Ciaran Kilkenny too did some outstanding work in the half forward line including a brilliantly fisted pass to the in-rushing Con O’Callaghan who was pulled down for a penalty. A carbon copy movement in the second half from substitute Dean Rock put O’Callaghan through again for the only goal of the game. One touch, BANG! It’s hard to believe but King Con is only 23. Long may his reign continue.
For me, the real highlight of the game was watching stalwarts from the original 2011 and 2013 All-Ireland winning teams driving on like young bucks to secure a place in the team: Michael Fitzsimmons, Philly McMahon, Stephen Cluxton, Michael Darragh MacAuley, Paddy Andrews, Ciaran Kilkenny, James McCarthy and Dean Rock, all pushing themselves to the limit. These are the warriors who laid the foundations for 4-in-a-row and they looked as sharp as ever.
None more so than the ageless Cian O’Sullivan.
Anyone who thought Cian was passed his best, was in for a rude awakening. The mustachioed centre back maestro showed no signs of injury from the brittle hamstrings that have plagued his career in recent years. A fully fit Cian O’Sullivan is not only the most game-intelligent defender in the country; he has lightning fast reflexes and is as strong as an ox. There’s a reason he’s one of only three Dublin players to start on the first 15 in every All Ireland Dublin have played this decade, and nobody plays the role of sweeper better. O’Sullivan is to the defence what Kilkenny is to the attack; pivotal.
James McCarthy’s worrying knee injury aside, the real talking point of the game - and arguably the best performance of the day - came from Dean Rock, whose 20 minute cameo featured 3 outstanding points from play and 1 free. With a touch more composure, he could have made it 1-4.
Cormac Costello didn’t do much wrong, scoring 2 frees and a 45’, but Deano’s outstanding contributions in general play will make Jim Gavin think long and hard over who gets the jersey the next day.
It’s a fascinating rivalry - in an Irish rugby context, this is like Campbell Vs Ward or O’Gara Vs Humphreys. Gavin won’t play them both at the same time, so one of them will have to outperform the other to make the first team. Dublin’s 2019 place kicking microdrama continues…
Meath have tyre tracks all over their back and the unstoppable Dublin juggernaut rolls on.