Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Louth give Dublin a Croke Park fright as All-Ireland champions limp to 14th consecutive Leinster title

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In front of a modern-day record low attendance for a Leinster senior football final – just 23,113 – Dessie Farrell’s All-Ireland champions stumbled where many had presumed they would saunter to a 14th consecutive provincial title.

Craig Lennon’s fisted goal in stoppage-time reduced the final margin to just four points, the tightest Dublin have endured this record-shredding run since they beat Meath by three in 2012.

It was no more than Louth, managed by former Dublin star Ger Brennan, deserved.

Yes, they were ultra-defensive, retreating en masse and conceding the kickout to Stephen Cluxton. But it frustrated the life out of Dublin, who actually trailed at half-time (by a point) and only established a level of control once a Louth gifted possession off their own kickout, culminating in a Con O’Callaghan goal that left the champions four clear on 55 minutes.

Brennan came with a plan and it was immediately apparent straight after Ciarán Downey’s opening wide, with all 15 Louth men withdrawing behind their own ‘65’ for the resultant kickout.

Some 35 minutes later, as Sam Mulroy lined up a 40m free that would give the rank outsiders a shock half-time lead of 0-7 to 0-6, his 14 teammates had again withdrawn beyond the ‘65’ even before he took his unerring kick between the Hill 16 uprights.

In between, Louth held their discipline and ultra-defensive shape whenever the Dubs had possession. But they still wouldn’t have led but for a surprising lax and sloppy performance from the All-Ireland champions.

When had they last trailed at half-time in their province? The statisticians went scrambling and even though it happened relatively recently – last year’s semi-final against Kildare – it was still a shock to the system and a jolt to all the pre-match predictions of another Sky Blue landslide.

Brian Fenton was the exception to Dublin’s misfiring first half rule, landing 0-3 from play. At the other end, Louth skipper Sam Mulroy nailed three frees from distance while Conor Grimes made some brilliant inroads in open play, landing two before the break on his way to finishing with 0-4 from play.

On the resumption, perhaps stirred by some half-time home truths from management, Dublin raced back into the lead with three quick points from Paul Mannion, a Cormac Costello free and Ciarán Kilkenny.

They were still two up when Louth rattled them via a 44th minute goal from Ciarán Keenan, who raced onto a Mulroy flick, cutting in from the left flank and skirting around Cluxton to score.

Shaken and stirred, Dublin hit back with points from O’Callaghan and Costello before Grimes levelled once more.

The key moments came around the 55th minute, when Costello punished an accidental Tommy Durnin trip on John Small by nailing an angled free. Niall McDonnell sought to find a red jersey with his mid-range kickout, but it wasn’t on the money and Dublin sub Jack McCaffrey pounced.

McCaffrey raced through the middle before finding O’Callaghan, who buried a clinical angled shot to the right corner.,

Game, set and match; and as Louth started to physically flag, the Dubs stretched seven clear. But then, typical of their imperfect day, they turned over possession on the Cusack touchline, and this allowed Mulroy to run in along the endline before hand-passing across for the lurking Lennon to score.

When was the last time Cluxton conceded two goals in championship combat? Another positive for Louth on a day from which they can glean lots of positives, but no silverware.

SCORERS – Dublin: C O’Callaghan 1-4 (0-1m), C Costello 0-6 (4f), B Fenton 0-3, C Basquel, P Mannion, C Kilkenny, S Bugler, T Lahiff, P Small 0-1 each.

Louth: S Mulroy 0-6 (5f), C Grimes 0-4, C Keenan, C Lennon 1-0 each, C Downey, T Durnin 0-1 each.

DUBLIN – S Cluxton; C Murphy, E Murchan, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, J Small, S Bugler; B Fenton, T Lahiff; N Scully, C Costello, C Kilkenny; P Mannion, C O’Callaghan, C Basquel.

Subs: J McCaffrey for Scully (49), P Small for Basquel (49), B Howard for Lahiff (64), R McGarry for Bugler (64), K McGinnis for Mannion (71).

LOUTH – N McDonnell; D Corcoran, P Lynch, D McKenny; N Sharkey, A Williams, C McKeever; T Durnin, B Duffy; L Grey, C Downey, C Grimes; C Keenan, S Mulroy, C Lennon.

Subs: D Campbell for Sharkey (49), C Early for Williams (56), C Byrne for Durnin (59), R Burns for Keenan (59), L Jackson for Grey (65).

REF – N Mooney (Cavan)

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