Leinster SFC final: dazzling Dubs in seventh heaven
16 July 2017
Dublin's Con O'Callaghan with Niall Kelly of Kildare.
Record-breaking Dublin collected their seventh successive Leinster title with an emphatic 2-23 to 1-17 victory over Kildare at Croke Park.
With a massive crowd of 66,734 in attendance, Con O’Callaghan chipped in with twelve points (six from play) for the current All-Ireland champions, while Bernard Brogan came off the bench to weigh in with five points. Dean Rock and James McCarthy netted early in the first half and those scores left the Lilywhites chasing the match throughout.
They battled valiantly, scoring more against a Jim Gavin managed team in the championship than any other team has to date, with Kevin Feely particularly impressive, but ultimately the challengers didn’t have enough ammunition to prevent the all-conquering Dubs from collecting a 56th provincial crown and 12th in 13 years.
Playing his 88th championship match today, Stephen Cluxton collected his eleventh major piece of silverware as Dublin captain. The inimitable goalkeeper has now won 13 Leinsters to go with his four All-Irelands. Victory sees the Dubs march into the All-Ireland quarter-finals and ominously closer to a third successive Sam Maguire heist.
Kildare, meanwhile, must brush themselves down and prepare for a fourth-round Qualifier against either Monaghan or Armagh in 13 days’ time. They will still fancy their chances of advancing to the last eight.
Having trailed by nine points after 17 minutes, Kildare made a real fight of it in the second quarter and were just four behind at the short whistle, 2-8 to 0-10, outscoring the Dubs by nine points to four in the last 15 minutes before the break - their best spell of this mostly one-sided encounter.
The match appeared to be over as any sort of meaningful contest by the eleventh minute after goals from Rock and McCarthy propelled Jim Gavin’s imperious charges into an eight-point lead, 2-3 to 0-1.
Daniel Flynn and Paul Mannion swapped the first two points, with Tommy Moolick getting a brief glimpse of the Dublin goal in between, only to be closed down by the ever-vigilant McCarthy. In the seventh minute, Ciaran Kilkenny nonchalantly swung over a terrific Dubs lead point off his left peg and dual ace O’Callaghan showed the Lilywhites defence a clean pair of heels before seeing his shot tipped over the crossbar by the fingertips of Mark Donnellan for a third Dublin score.
In the tenth minute, the holders moved five points clear when the Kildare defence was taken out of the equation by a straightforward Kilkenny handpass to Rock, who casually slotted a sublime finish low to the bottom left corner of the net. Within 90 seconds, the ball was in the onion bag at the Hill 16 end again as a flat-footed visiting rearguard was again all-too-easily bypassed and McCarthy took his time – and plenty of steps - before blasting his shot through the exposed Donnellan’s legs.
O’Callaghan eased over the fourth Dublin point at the midway stage in the first half and Cathal McNally grabbed the losers’ first point in 20 minutes before wing back Keith Cribbin drilled a powerful shot a couple of feet over the Dublin crossbar – 2-4 to 0-3 with 13 minutes left in the first half.
Feely swung over a lovely Kildare free and McNally also pointed instantly to give Cian O’Neill’s side a fourth successive point. Despite having had Rock black-carded for a hand-trip and conceding four in a row, the reigning All-Ireland champions still led by double scores after 26 minutes, 2-4 to 0-5.
Assuming place-kicking duties from the exiled Rock, O’Callaghan popped over a soft Dublin free. Former Footballer of the Year Brogan came off the bench to replace Rock and he slotted a lovely score after Kildare wing back Johnny Byrne took a delightful point with his left boot from the right wing.
Another O’Callaghan free cancelled out a Paddy Brophy strike and Flynn then lit up the game when his sensational 33rd-minute solo point again reduced the gap to five: the Kildare No.14 made a brilliant run along the Hogan Stand side of the pitch and smacked a sublime point between the uprights at the Davin End of HQ.
The underdogs kept coming and had further points from David Slattery and Feely either side of a Brogan reply to turn around just four adrift – a stirring recovery but the red-hot favourites were still ahead.
O’Callaghan’s fifth point (free) opened the second-half scoring and teased the holders’ lead back out to five but Niall Kelly replied in the 39th minute as the Lilywhites refused to roll over. Andrews and Brogan both nailed points in the 40th minute as the gap went back out to seven and time stood still in the 42nd minute when Flynn found himself in a one-on-one with Cluxton and the veteran Dublin custodian stood firm to make a great save with his right elbow, although the Kildare attacker struck his shot straight at him.
It was a four-point swing as O’Callaghan (free) supplied the winners’ third consecutive point. With 25 minutes left, O’Callaghan withstood a couple of challenges and fired over his seventh point and his third from play as the holders started to turn the screw – 2-13 to 0-11.
Brogan grabbed his fourth and a Feely free brought an end to Dublin’s five-point scoring sequence before the confident O’Callaghan cut inside to knock over a wonderful score with his left boot. Nine points separated the teams again when supersub Brogan clipped over a majestic score; Kilkenny’s left-footed finish made it 2-17 to 0-12 with 18 minutes remaining.
With the match long since over, Feely (free) and substitute Fionn Dowling pulled back a couple of consolation scores before Dublin replacement Shane Carthy added to the winners’ tally and Feely replied from another free, this one taken with his left foot.
O’Callaghan’s ninth point came from a free in front of the posts and the Lilywhites’ outstanding performer Feely missed the last eight minutes after picking up a black card. Sharper than anybody else on the field, O’Callaghan was fastest to the breaking ball and gathered possession before stroking over his tenth point with just five minutes to go.
Brophy booted over a consolation in the last minute of normal time and substitute Brian Howard helped himself to a fisted point at the Davin End in the first of five added minutes. O’Callaghan registered for the eleventh time on 73 minutes and Brophy did well to notch a poacher’s consolation three-pointer from close range at the death after beating his man to a dangerous delivery.
Mannion blasted the ball to the roof of the Kildare net in the dying seconds but the whistle had prematurely sounded for a free-in and O’Callaghan closed the scoring for a simple free as the Dubs won at their ease. The celebrations were fairly muted as this outstanding group of players took possession of the Delaney Cup once more.
Dublin - S Cluxton; P McMahon, C O'Sullivan, M Fitzsimons; E Lowndes, J Small, J McCaffrey; J McCarthy (1-0), B Fenton; C O'Callaghan (0-12, 6f), C Kilkenny (0-2), N Scully; P Mannion (0-1), P Andrews (0-1), D Rock (1-0). Subs: B Brogan (0-5) for D Rock (BC), S Carthy (0-1) for N Scully, D Daly for P McMahon, K McManamon for P Andrews, D Byrne for C O'Sullivan, B Howard (0-1) for B Fenton.
Kildare - M Donnellan; M O'Grady, O Lyons, D Hyland; K Cribbin (0-1), E Doyle, J Byrne (0-1); K Feely (0-5, 4f), T Moolick; D Slattery (0-1), N Kelly (0-1), F Conway; C McNally (0-2), D Flynn (0-2), P Brophy (1-3, 0-1f). Subs: P Cribbin for F Conway, F Dowling (0-1) for T Moolick, P Kelly for E Doyle, B McCormack for C McNally, E Bolton for J Byrne, E Callaghan for K Feely (BC).
Referee - A Nolan.