Talking points from Leinster and Ulster football finals

1)Dublin’s Leinster dominance continues

As referee Anthony Nolan sounded the full-time whistle in Croke Park on Sunday evening, Jim Gavin’s Dublin side had just created more history by winning the Leinster Football Championship for the seventh consecutive time, a feat which no other county in the province has achieved.

Cluxton Leinster Trophy 2017
Cluxton hoists aloft the Delaney cup. Credit:RTÉ

Dublin managed to win five consecutive Leinster titles from 2005-2009 but came up short in 2010 when arch-rivals, Meath, caused a shock and scored five goals past a hapless Steven Cluxton. That day saw the most goals ever conceded by the Dublin stopper in his illustrious inter-county career to date.

There was a sense of hope throughout the country, between Dublin supporters and the rest of the GAA community that this Kildare side, which is massively improving under the guidance of Cian O’Neill, could mount a significant challenge to Dublin in Leinster and finally give them a much needed challenge.

While they did challenge Dublin for parts of the game, Dublin still emerged victorious on a scoreline of 2-23 to 1-17, thus ensuring that the Delaney cup remains in the capital for another year.

When Jim Gavin’s charges netted through Ballymun Kickhams duo, Dean Rock and James McCarthy inside the first 10 minutes it looked set to be another whitewash with the score reading 2-03 to 0-01 after 8 minutes but Kildare knuckled down and kept the game competitive but ultimately Dublin had too much for the Lillies with the class of Cuala’s Con O’Callaghan and the old dog, Bernard Brogan, shining through.


2)Kildare a force to be reckoned with

While Kildare were beaten by 9 points in the end there are plenty of positives for Cian O’Neill and his selectors, Ronan Sweeney and Enda Murphy to take out of the game.

Having fallen behind after two quickfire goals from Dublin and the scoreline making ominous reading for Kildare, the Lillies went about their business and started to work themselves back into contention. Indeed, by half-time the scoreline read 2-08 to 0-10 in Dublin’s favour but Kildare had scored the same amount of times and actually managed to outscore Dublin after surrendering the two goals. The results against Dublin from their last two Championship meetings in 2015 and 2013 weren’t favourable towards the Lilywhites, yielding net defeats of 9-34 to 1-23 and while they didn’t quite manage to pull off a monumental shock and win, they did manage to come out with their pride very much intact which is an awful lot better than most sides manage against Dublin at GAA HQ.

The performances of both Daniel Flynn and Kevin Feely were eye-catching to say the least and both players have big futures in the white jersey. Feely managed to win the midfield battle against two-time All-Star Brian Fenton, while Daniel Flynn outmuscled Cian O’Sullivan and pulled him out of his usual sweeping role for Dublin. It is the second time ever that a side has managed not to lose by double digits against Dublin since Jim Gavin took over in 2013 and no side has posted 1-17 against the Dubs in Leinster since Gavin. I’d fancy Kildare to take Armagh in Round 4 of the qualifiers and return to make an All-Ireland Quarter final in August.


3)Dublin spine a cause for concern

While people may say I’m nit-picking here, what struck me watching the Dublin game on Sunday was how easy it was at times for Kildare to rampage through Dublin’s centre. The form of Brian Fenton has dipped considerably since the League Final defeat back in April at the hands of Kerry. No doubt Fenton has the ability to turn it on its head but he was cleaned out by Kevin Feely of Kildare, who time and again rose above Fenton to win marks. You’d know things are bad when Fenton, who usually graces the skies of Croke Park and catches the ball so elegantly, kept trying to break the ball instead of catching it, but still could not prevent Feely’s dominance .

Feely Fenton
Kevin Feely outjumps Brian Fenton. Credit: IrishTimes

Kildare also managed to occupy Cian O’Sullivan, Dublin’s equivalent of the German soccer player, Franz Beckenbauer, from playing his usual sweeper role in front of the full-back line by putting Daniel Flynn on him. Flynn mixed things up by coming out the field and moving inside which kept O’Sullivan on his toes. Usually teams are happy to concede territory to Dublin in Croke Park which then allows O’Sullivan to stay back and hoover up any ball that may pose a threat to the Dublin defence but he was unable to on Sunday. Flynn completely outpowered him in the air and when Kildare ran directly at Dublin they had chances such as Keith Cribbin’s shot that went over in the first half and the early chance inside the first 2 minutes which scuttled along the ground.

The goal which came through Paddy Brophy at the end came from a long high ball in on top of Dublin full-back, Michael Fitzsimons, who was outjumped by the bigger Paddy Brophy, who finished to the net. Johnny Cooper who has that bit more height and physicality than Fitzsimons and is Dublin’s full-back usually, was out injured with a hamstring problem. Cooper will probably go back to his full back berth and Fitzsimons might be better placed in the corner. Jim Gavin will be hoping he will be fit for the Quarter Final in 3 weeks time.

Margins such as these will be exposed by the likes of Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone.

4) Tyrone ticking along nicely

Tyrone managed to beat Down on a scoreline of 2-17 to 0-15 to retain the Anglo-Celt cup in Clones on Sunday. This victory ensure Mickey Harte’s 6th Ulster SFC medal as manager of the Red Hands.

While people talk of Dublin’s flamboyant football and Kerry’s panache in attack marking them out as the front runners for the All-Ireland title there is little talk of Tyrone, who are coming in nicely under the radar after beating Derry, Donegal and Down in their bid to retain Ulster. While Tyrone may not have a James O’Donoghue or Bernard Brogan up front they manage to overlook this because as a collective, they are superb and are beginning to peak as a team.

While Down only trailed by 2 points at the break, Tyrone absolutely blitzed them in the third quarter of the game scoring the first 7 points of the second half and defending resolutely, making Down shoot innocuously from long-range. Indeed, Down’s first second half score came courtesy of Caolan Mooney but it didn’t come until the 53rd minute which was a credit to the intensity Tyrone brought to the game, defending in numbers with Colm Cavanagh perfectly placed as a sweeper, and breaking at breakneck speed, working the ball through the likes of Tiernan McCann, Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte up the pitch to Down’s scoring zone and managing to work scores.

Tyrone’s half-back line registered 6 points (5 from play) and continues to impress. Pádraig Hampsey, from Coalisland, has been a great find by Mickey Harte this year, and once again won the Man of the Match award.

5)Tyrone sights set on Croker

‘‘Our journey is not over yet. See you in Croker!’’, were the words of Tyrone captain and the last man from the first Tyrone team to win Sam Maguire in 2003, Seán Cavanagh. A clear indication that Tyrone will not stop until they land the ultimate prize on a September Sunday.

Seán Cavanagh
Tyrone ready to mount Sam Maguire challenge. Credit:RTé

With the squad Mickey Harte has assembled, Tyrone are well placed to challenge for the All-Ireland and can certainly beat any of the ‘big teams’ on their day. They are well-drilled, disciplined and possess a clinical ruthlessness, all traits the likes of Dublin and Kerry have.

Their bench did well too, with Ronan O’Neill scoring the decisive two goals when he was sprung and Declan McClure impressing in midfield when he replaced Kieran McGeary after his black card.

Provided Tyrone and Dublin win their respective quarter final clashes in 3 weeks time, a potential semi-final between the two powerhouses awaits. A mouth-watering prospect.


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