HomeFootballGer Brennan exposes a few chinks even as Dublin reign on

Ger Brennan exposes a few chinks even as Dublin reign on


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So you won’t be surprised by yesterday’s outcome, but the result itself will raise more than a few quizzical eyebrows. Were Dublin that bad to only win by four? Were Louth that good?

It took a former Dub to figure out how it’s still possible to make life awkward for his county in their own fiefdom.

Louth under Mickey Harte lost last year’s final by 21 points. In Ger Brennan’s maiden campaign, they have lost to the same opposition by 17 points fewer.

Even if there’s no Delaney Cup at the end of this rainbow, and the search for a ninth Leinster title will extend to a 68th year in 2025, this is still real progress.

True, Louth’s structured and disciplined resistance was facilitated by the type of sloppy Dublin performance which they occasionally contrive to produce at this time of the season.

Man of the match Brian Fenton, with three points from midfield, was a notable exception to the misfiring first-half rule. Dublin were far more efficient after the break, reflected in a 1-13 tally, led by Con O’Callaghan (with 1-3 of his 1-4 haul) and backed up by Cormac Costello.

But Louth deserve kudos for making it so competitive for so long, until O’Callaghan’s 55th-minute goal created four-point daylight for the first time.

How did Louth manage it? Well, partly through the economy of their shooting: they had just three wides and another three dropped short, while Sam Mulroy’s deadball striking from distance and some swashbuckling points from Conor Grimes (four in all) kept them alive and kicking. But, primarily, Louth made a game of it by taking a leaf from the Jim McGuinness playbook of 2011.

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 kick-out.

Some 35 minutes later, as Mulroy lined up a 40-metre free that would give them a shock half-time lead of 0-7 to 0-6, his 14 team-mates had again withdrawn beyond the ’65 even before he took aim.

Brennan wasn’t there for last year’s Leinster final cakewalk but, asked about the marked improvement, he replied: “It’s a healthy respect in terms of what’s in front of you. Dublin have 15 players, two arms, two legs, as Mickey Whelan from St Vincent’s used to always tell us.

“The Louth fellas are in great shape, but it’s about being respectful of what they have and what they’re good at.

“Dublin are good at the counter-attacks, good at those mid/long-range kick-outs. They’re good at kicking the ball through the lines. So we tried to stop that and be pragmatic in how we set up.”

Brennan also pinpointed the skill-set of his players on the ball. “We had to back our players, and they are good enough. There’s Division 1 quality in the Louth players. They just have to believe in themselves,” he declared.

Dessie Farrell, for his part, was “just happy” to take the victory, Dublin’s 19th Leinster title out of 20, and move on to the All-Ireland group stages.

The Dubs boss is so “blue in the face” talking about what’s wrong with the current provincial structure that he wasn’t inclined to proffer any quick-fix solutions after yesterday’s final drew a record low Leinster final attendance – since people started keeping records of these things – of 23,113.

However, Farrell did suggest that Louth had been underestimated by the commentariat, but not by his team.

“The public narrative and discourse was that it was a foregone conclusion, but anyone who had been doing their homework on Louth through the National League, we at least knew it was going to be a difficult proposition. They particularly seem to play better against better teams,” he remarked.

“They set their stall out really well, they stuck to their guns right to the bitter end and made it very, very difficult for us to break them down. It was good to get in at half-time and regroup and figure out the puzzle a bit more. The lads, to be fair, did a great job in the second half in terms of going at it a little bit more. Disappointed with the two goals we conceded, probably softish goals.”

Not since Meath’s five-goal salvo in 2010 had Dublin conceded two goals in a Leinster contest hosted by GAA HQ. And not since the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final against Galway had Stephen Cluxton been beaten twice in SFC combat.

Not that Dublin’s 42-year-old Benjamin Button was to blame here; it was more a case of his defence letting Louth expose gaps in their right flank too easily.

Dublin appeared to have weathered Louth’s best counter-attacking punches, landing four of the first five points after half-time, when Ciarán Keenan accelerated onto a loose ball that broke off Mulroy, speeding away from the cover and then stepping around Cluxton to fire home in the 44th minute.

Dublin wiped out Louth’s lead in an eye-blink, via points from O’Callaghan and Costello. But the 1/100 favourites still couldn’t shake off their rivals until a Costello free (to restore the lead) was followed by a kick-out calamity.

Goalkeeper Niall McDonnell, hitherto pinpoint with his restarts under huge pressure at times, misdirected his next mid-range attempt – and it proved fatal. Sub Jack McCaffrey pounced and then picked out O’Callaghan for a clinical left-footed finish to the right corner.

As Louth bodies started to flag, they fell seven adrift. No shame in that, but when Mick Fitzsimons was turned over on the Cusack touchline, Louth went for the jugular once more, Mulroy feeding Craig Lennon for a palmed second goal.

Cluxton’s final kick-out was the first one contested all day – and Louth won it. Snapshot of a strange day.

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 6; C Murphy 7, E Murchan 7, M Fitzsimons 6; J McCarthy 6, J Small 7, S Bugler 6; B Fenton 8, T Lahiff 6; N Scully 6, C Costello 7, C Kilkenny 6; P Mannion 6, C O’Callaghan 8, C Basquel 6. Subs: J McCaffrey 7 for Scully (49), P Small 7 for Basquel (49), B Howard 6 for Lahiff (64), R McGarry 6 for Bugler (64), K McGinnis for Mannion (71).

LOUTH: N McDonnell 7; D Corcoran 7, P Lynch 6, D McKenny 7; N Sharkey 6, A Williams 7, C McKeever 7; T Durnin 6, B Duffy 7; L Grey 6, C Downey 6, C Grimes 8; C Keenan 6, S Mulroy 8, C Lennon 7. Subs: D Campbell 6 for Sharkey (49), C Early 6 for Williams (56), C Byrne 6 for Durnin (59), R Burns 6 for Keenan (59), L Jackson 6 for Grey (65).

REF: N Mooney (Cavan)

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