The one-sided contest that developed into a tight match
It finished off with just a kick of the ball between the teams yet the greatest mystery nearing the finale of yesterday’s Leinster final was how it was so tight on the scoreboard. Twice Dublin looked like romping comfortably to victory, midway through the first-half when they steamed ahead by 0-6 to 0-1 and midway through the second-half when they held a commanding 2-11 to 0-7 advantage. Yet on both occasions Meath engineered a route back into the match. It was a game of fluctuating fortunes that finished in a welter of excitement. And while Dublin wore the look of winners for long stages, the odd see-saw nature of the game made it difficult to analyse, creating more questions than answers.
The impact of Bernard Brogan
He was a muted figure against Wexford in the Leinster semi-final but yesterday Bernard Brogan slipped back into the role of the main man up for Dublin. He was sharp and inventive from the start, darting onto an early pass from his brother Alan to clip over a neat point, taking his goal chance with assurance before the interval and most significantly assuming the responsibility to kick a booming late point that helped douse the hype Meath had generated after Jamie Queeney found the net. A haul of 1-7 was reflective of a good afternoon’s work and while both Denis Bastic and Cian O’Sullivan had reason to quibble with the man-of-the-match award being given to the St Oliver Plunkett’s-Eoghan Ruadh man, there was no disputing Brogan’s key input to Dublin’s victory.
The effect for Dublin’s All-Ireland aspirations
Pat Gilroy made a salient point afterwards when describing August as the time when teams need to start being ‘outstanding’. Getting to that juncture is the key objective for most counties and the methods they employ to get there are irrelevant to an extent. Dublin will be simply glad to have secured a berth in the last eight but even with three wins on the bounce behind them, their displays from hereon must be enhanced. There are question marks over their defence, particularly at centre-back where Kevin Nolan did not look comfortable yesterday as he is far more effective on the wing.
And even with Cian O’Sullivan back in harness, their rearguard was still cut open too often when Meath ran at them in the second-half. Midfield is still a live issue with Michael Darragh MacAuley and Denis Bastic seemingly their best pairing while if Alan Brogan is absent, their attack lacks an orchestrator. There are plenty areas to address if they are to retain their All-Ireland crown.
James McCarthy, Michael Fitzsimons and Rory O’Carroll of Dublin with Meath’s Joe Sheridan in yesterday’s game. Pic: INPHO/Donall Farmer
The loss of the surprise factor for Meath
The expectations were low for Meath entering their Leinster semi-final against Kildare yet they produced a remarkable success. The key to that triumph was the manner in which their younger players thrived but yesterday was a markedly different experience. Dublin were alert to the threats posed by Alan Forde’s pace and Damien Carroll’s guile in the half-forward line. The surprise factor that pair posed was gone as Pat Gilroy’s side blocked their progress and both attackers were on the bench when the second-half started.
Conor Gillespie did not dominate midfield to the same extent as he did against Kildare and his wayward pass created the opening for Dublin to register their first goal. On a positive note Donal Keogan and Donncha Tobin were both outstanding in defence, and it has to be pointed that Meath’s young players are still developing. Yesterday was an experience that will stand to them.
The optimism for Meath going forward
The fear for Meath entering yesterday’s match was that they could receive a heavy beating that would knock them back and ensure the optimism that was created by their victory over Kildare would dissipate. Indeed midway through both halves, when they trailed by five points and ten points respectively, the signs were ominous for Seamus McEnaney’s side and they did suffer a terrible blow in shipping two goals in quick succession before half-time. However as the Meath manager pointed out after the match, his team displayed tremendous heart and character to bounce back.
They kept battling in difficult circumstances in the second-half and nearly staged an improbable revival with Jamie Queeney’s goal just arriving a few minutes too late to make a significant difference. However there is still the basis of a team there to work with and reaching the All-Ireland quarter-final stages a realistic goal. Focusing on Laois next Saturday is now the challenge but they can be optimistic getting set for that game.