GAZING INTO THE crystal ball before yesterday’s Leinster semi-finals, I came down on the side of Kildare and Dublin qualifying for the final.
Dublin progressed as everyone expected. Kildare didn’t succeed as they fell short against a fully deserving Meath side.
Spending over a decade soldiering for Kildare naturally meant my allegiances lay with them but when coldly analysing the match-up, I did think Kildare would win. With no Eamon Wallace and Mickey Newman in the Meath ranks, I fancied Kildare to keep out the goals and felt they’d have enough pace up front and strength on the bench to get over the line.
Kildare’s performance was very disappointing. When they fell behind by 12 points just seven minutes into the second-half, it was game over. They did rally to show a bit of fight and cut the gap to five by the finish. They’ll take positives from that.
But the first-half was a huge disappointment. Meath scored one goal and could have had another six. Kildare didn’t place enough pressure on Meath’s kickouts, didn’t track runners and left huge areas of space in front of their full-back line. Those defenders were on a hiding to nothing. There wasn’t enough aggression around the middle third and Meath dominated.
Kildare tried to run the ball too much and didn’t hit the full-forward line early enough. Podge Fogarty had showed that he was causing the Meath full-back line trouble but didn’t get enough service.
The gap was too great for Kildare to overcome at the finish. They needed a goal to get them back into the game but the closest they came was when Alan Smith’s shot crashed off the bar.
It’s a hugely disappointing way for Kildare to exit the Leinster championship but they have to get focused again for the qualifiers. They’ve shown a capacity to take the qualifiers by storm in recent years and they’ve used it as a platform to push on after the setback of defeats.
Getting paired against Down represents a tough draw as they’ve to go to Newry. But I think it’s a great draw for the team. It’s the type of challenge that doesn’t give them any time to feel sorry for themselves. It’s no time to lick the wounds. They’ll regroup and are capable of going again.
Meath catch the eye
I was really impressed by Meath yesterday particularly with how they overcame injury problems. Conor Gillespie was a big loss at midfield and we’ve mentioned the forwards that were absent. Those problems didn’t bother them.
Meath were direct and sharp from the start. Stephen Bray was the star, he finished with four points and constantly looked for possession. Damien Carroll was excellent and someone Kildare couldn’t get to grips with. Joey Wallace and Dalton McDonagh came into the frame and also did really well.
Meath are into their third consecutive Leinster final and I admire their consistency. I don’t think they’ll win the final primarily because I don’t think any team is going to beat Dublin this year. But Meath can push Dublin and if their injuries clear up, that will give them far more options.
Dublin dominant again
Two games in Leinster, two wins for Dublin and a combined winning margin of 27 points. You have to give credit to Dublin for their performances but it’s frightening for the rest of Leinster just how much they’re pulling clear.
It was strange yesterday to be looking at Dublin for 40 minutes and thinking that perhaps they were slipping. If Wexford got more ball into Banville, Lyng and Brosnan, there was a sense they could trouble them. Similar to the Laois game, Wexford were doing well and competing.
But just when there was a feeling that Dublin were faltering, they upped the ante in the last 20-30 minutes and simply blew away Wexford. They finished as winners by 16 points and demonstrated the incredible strength of their bench with the scores they got from Cormac Costello, Eoghan O’Gara and Tomas Brady.
Jim Gavin seems to be able to finish a game with as strong a team as he started. The players mentality is that the county is first and individual is second. Everyone wants to be on the team but Gavin looks to have achieved the tough task of keeping everyone on the panel content. They continue to dominate.
Ulster in the qualifier spotlight
The pick of the qualifiers is the meeting of Tyrone against Monaghan or Armagh. The prospect of facing Tyrone has got to provide great extra motivation for next Sunday’s Ulster replay. For whoever loses, you’re jumping straight from the frying pan into the fire. Tyrone blitzed Louth on Saturday and showed they still have a lot to play for.
Cavan and Roscommon looks like it could be a good game as well in a repeat of the Division 3 final. They’re both evenly-matched and it’ll be interesting to see how that unfolds.