By Richard Commins

(From the Kildare Nationalist, out every Tuesday)

A wretched Kildare, akin to rabbits caught in the headlights, were blown apart by a reborn Dublin in Saturday evening’s Leinster Final in Croke Park, conceding five goals in just 22 first half minutes to end the game as a contest well before half-time.

For all the optimism in the county beforehand, with the “galactico” management team on board and a rare league win over the Dubs in their back pocket, the post-mortems will be long and painful for a team that seemed bereft of spirit and backbone on the pitch and ill-equipped to deal with the nature of the modern game off it.

Dublin were magnificent it has to be said, very much looking back to their best after their difficult winter with Kildare players and management getting a wake-up call on the standard required at the highest level. Dublin worked harder, ran faster, handled the ball better, passed better and above all had their game plan down to a tee. Everything was done with purpose; Kildare showed little evidence of a game plan.

Sadly, the lack of intensity and openness that was evident against Mayo in the crunch final league tie and again against Westmeath two weeks ago, showed its face once more with Kildare showing little semblance of a modern defensive plan to shackle a Dublin side that couldn’t believe their luck. It was like a bank official handing robbers the keys to the vault.

Allowing Dublin uncontested ball from their own kick-out was both naïve and inexplicable, particularly after taking an early point off one of two early turnovers. Compounding that by not laying a glove on Dublin runners, as illustrated by Eoin Murchan’s 100-yard run unchallenged from his own ‘D’ to set up the fifth goal, bordered on criminal.

Going man-to-man on Dublin beggared belief, any hope that Kildare had been working on a “Dublin” plan in secret these past few weeks and months dashed when the team was announced. If not playing a sweeper was optimistic, putting 21-year old Alex Beirne back there to lock the stable door after the fourth goal suggested panic on the line.

Asked if he considered making substitutions before half-time, when it was obvious a massacre was on the cards, Glenn Ryan’s one-word answer was “Yes”. But they waited until half-time, by which time the fifth dagger had pierced Kildare hearts.

They did last four minutes longer than against Westmeath before the floodgates opened. Paul Cribbin and Dean Rock had exchanged early points but the ease with which Ciaran Kilkenny played in Con O’Callaghan for the opening goal should have set alarm bells ringing.

The Lilywhite defence was again asleep at the wheel two minutes later as Cormac Costello reacted quickest to a Rock point attempt that came back off the posts, Costello burying another past Mark Donnellan.

Both of those opening goals had originated with turnovers off Donnellan’s long kick-outs and he went short thereafter, with Dublin content to let Kildare run themselves into roadblocks or give possession away with a poor pass.

Kevin Feely did just that in the Dublin half and the ensuing move saw Seán Bugler play in Costello again and the Whitehall Colmcille’s man side-stepped Donnellan to make it 3-3 to 0-2 after only fifteen minutes.

Ben McCormack, who ended with a creditable five points, having switched to an isolated full-forward role in the second half, had managed his second point for Kildare, their third overall, when John Small got in on the goalscoring act as Dublin continued to rip holes in a stationary defence. Still only 19 minutes gone: 4-3 to 0-3.

Kildare were punished again after 26 minutes when Murchan picked up Comerford’s short kick-out and ran untouched the length of the field before passing to Costello, and he played man-of-the-match O’Callaghan in for goal number five.

By half-time Kildare were behind 0-6 to 5-7 and reinforcements finally came with David Hyland and Paddy Woodgate replacing James Murray and an off-colour Darragh Kirwan and Kildare roused themselves after what was undoubtedly a half-time dressing down.

Dublin no doubt took their foot off the gas in the second half and Kildare can be grateful for that small mercy, the 12-in-a-row Leinster Champions happy to take their points rather than embellish their goal tally. You felt they could win by whatever score they chose.

Kildare outscored their opponents 1-9 to 0-10 in the second half with Jimmy Hyland on hand to palm home a consolation goal after a good move in the Hill 16 corner involving hard-working pair Daniel and Kevin Flynn in the 49th minute. But an increasingly shapeless Kildare, try as they might, were never going to come close to reeling in the Dublin machine.

Both Flynns raised a gallop at different times, Daniel almost scoring a Daniel special in the first-half when soloing his way through three defenders before shooting wildly from a narrow angle, though in his defence, he beat Stephen Cluxton from a similar position in the past.

Daniel had been pulled further and further out the field as the first half progressed before switching permanently with McCormack in the second but in the end, despite his efforts, he finished scoreless.

Kevin, whose citing at wing back seems to rob Peter to pay Paul, continued to take the game to the opposition in the second half but fell foul of a black card for arguing the toss with inconsistent referee Paddy Neilan.

His clubmate Kevin O’Callaghan was another who didn’t let Kildare down, at least showing the physicality and desire for contact that a lot of his colleagues were missing.

Those minor plus points aside, this felt like a huge step backwards for Kildare football after the promise of spring, the deficit equalling our biggest margin of defeat to Dublin in a Leinster Final (the 3-13 to 0-8 drubbing in 1975).

Jack O’Connor was wildly criticised, including on these pages, for his conservative approach to last year’s final. It would be hard to argue with him right now as a chastened Kildare head for Round 2 of the qualifiers on June 11th or 12th.

KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Shea Ryan, Mick O’Grady, Ryan Houlihan; Tony Archbold, James Murray, Kevin Flynn 0-1; Kevin Feely 0-2 (1m), Kevin O’Callaghan; Alex Beirne, Ben McCormack 0-5 (1m), Paul Cribbin 0-1; Darragh Kirwan 0-1, Daniel Flynn, Jimmy Hyland 1-4 (3fs). Subs: David Hyland for Murray HT, Paddy Woodgate 0-1 (f) for Kirwan HT, Paddy McDermott for Cribbin 49, Darragh Malone for Archbold 59, Fergal Conway for Beirne 68.

DUBLIN: Evan Comerford; Eoin Murchan, Michael Fitzsimons, Lee Gannon 0-2; John Small 1-0, Brian Howard, James McCarthy; Brian Fenton 0-3, Tom Lahiff; Sean Bugler, Lorcan O’Dell, Ciarán Kilkenny 1-0; Cormac Costello 2-1, Con O’Callaghan 1-5 (1m), Dean Rock 0-4 (4fs). Subs: Niall Scully 0-1 for O’Dell 45, Cian Murphy for Murchan 51, Aaron Byrne 0-1 for Rock 59, Jonny Cooper for Lahiff 65, Brian O’Leary for Costello 70.

REFEREE: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)

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