Familiar story for Saffrons as Dubs dominate to set up Galway showdown
Leinster SHC quarter-final: Antrim 0-22 Dublin 3-31
THERE’S a saying in boxing that styles make fights – and for the second time in the space of five weeks Dublin left Antrim feeling punch drunk as the Saffrons were swatted aside in Navan on Saturday.
Darren Gleeson’s side proved throughout their Division One campaign that they are able to mix it with the top sides in the country. Clare, who they beat, and Wexford – against whom Antrim salvaged a deserved draw to seal their survival – both registered wins over the Dubs through the League, and would probably be fancied to repeat the dose in Championship.
Yet Antrim were unable to lay a glove on Mattie Kenny’s men either day, Dublin’s sheer size and physicality clearly a bridge too far at this stage of their development.
And while Saturday was a chastening experience, especially given that it was the Saffrons’ first knockout game in the Leinster Championship since 2014, they can’t say they hadn’t been warned.
Back on May 22, the eight point gap flattered the Saffrons. The 18 points that separated them at Pairc Tailteann was more reflective of the scale of Dublin’s dominance.
And in terms of performance and how they went about winning the game, it was almost a carbon copy of that first encounter, except even more clinical; the goal chances that went abegging in Parnell Park converted with ruthless authority this time around.
“The learnings were there,” said Gleeson, whose side go on to face familiar foes Laois in a preliminary round qualifier on July 10.
“It wasn’t for the want of planning for it, just execution didn’t happen today for whatever reason. We’ll reflect, look at ourselves first as a management team and a coaching team, what we brought to the table. Then we’ll bring it to the players, ask the questions of them on Tuesday night and see what we get back.”
The cornerstone of Dublin’s success was the mountainous half-forward line of Danny Sutcliffe, Chris Crummey and the brilliant Donal Burke, who barely missed a beat all day. Between them they added 17 points to the Dubs’ tally, but their overall contribution was so much greater than that.
From goalkeeper Alan Nolan’s laser-like puck-outs, those three hoovered up almost everything.
It didn’t matter whether they were jumping from a standing start, on the run, even falling backwards or sideways, the sliothar would invariably finish up in one of their mighty paws as Eoghan Campbell, Paddy Burke and Joe Maskey found the going tough on land or air.
From those positions, that terrific trio could score or feed the inside line of Cian Boland, Ronan Hayes and Cian O’Sullivan, all three of whom had found the back of the net by the time the long whistle sounded. At times, it looked so easy.
And that aerial dominance was replicated at the other end too, where Antrim’s forwards found it equally difficult to make any meaningful impact.
With captain Conor McCann starting on the bench and Neil McManus moving out around the middle, that left the smaller, nippier Ciaran Clarke, Conal Cunning and Seaan Elliott foraging in the land of giants where Paddy Smyth, Cian O’Callaghan and the buccaneering Eoghan O’Donnell reigned supreme.
Even when McCann came on for Elliott after 26 minutes, it made little difference, the Creggan man still short of match fitness as he struggled to get into a game that was already running away from Antrim.
The Saffrons persisted with long diagonal balls inside and to the wings but they were getting little joy. The only goal chance of note created all day came when McManus fed Cunning with an incisive 30 metre pass across the square 16 minutes in.
The Dunloy man’s shot looked destined for the net until Nolan somehow got his hurl on it, sending the sliothar over the bar for a point instead.
McManus helped keep the Saffrons in touch in the first quarter, bagging three from play as the Dubs led 0-8 to 0-6. But, just as in the League game, Dublin pulled away after the water break, extending that lead to five before O’Sullivan rifled their first goal into the roof of Elliott’s net three minutes before half-time.
Mission improbable became mission impossible when Hayes and Boland bagged further goals inside a couple of minutes to leave the Saffrons trailing by 16 moving into the final quarter, and Kenny’s men kept them at arm’s length to secure a Leinster semi-final showdown with his native Galway on Saturday.
“We knew coming up here that Antrim were going to bring a huge threat. They had a really good League and I suppose forewarned is forearmed,” said the man who led Cuala to All-Ireland clubs titles in 2017 and 2018.
“Galway are in massive form at the moment. I've watched all their games and the range of scores they have, the way they're moving the ball, they're in top, top form.
“We know going down to Portlaoise next weekend that that's going to be a massive, massive challenge.”
For Gleeson, and Antrim, they have a fortnight now to lick their wounds and bounce back against the O’Moore men.
“Let’s see what happens there,” said the Tipperary All-Ireland winner.
“A win brings you back into the Championship, so we have to learn from this.”
Dublin: A Nolan; P Smyth, E O'Donnell (0-1), C O'Callaghan; D Gray, L Rushe, J Madden; R McBride (0-2), C Burke (0-1); C Crummey (0-3), D Sutcliffe (0-3), D Burke (0-11, 0-6 frees); C O'Sullivan (1-2), R Hayes (1-3), Cian Boland (1-1). Subs: J Malone for McBride (57), F Whitely (0-1) for Sutcliffe (57), O O'Rorke (0-1) for O'Sullivan (57), S Moran (0-1) for C Burke (60), P Crummey (0-1) for C Crummey (63)
Antrim: R Elliott; D McMullan, G Walsh, S Rooney; E Campbell, P Burke, J Maskey; K Molloy (0-3), J McNaughton (0-1, 0-1 free); M Bradley (0-1), N McManus (0-6), N McKenna; C Clarke (0-9, 0-6 frees, 0-1 65), C Cunning (0-1), S Elliott. Subs: Conor McCann (0-1) for S Elliott (27), D Nugent for McKenna (48), S Shannon for Bradley (48), C Johnston for Campbell (57), R McGarry for Maskey (57)
Yellow cards: N McKenna (35), J McNaughton (55)
Red card: R McGarry (69)
Ref: L Gordon (Galway)