Paul Mannion in sparkling form as Dublin roll on to 16-point victory over Meath

Colm O’Rourke’s side gave in plenty in the first half but a controversial opening goal for Seán Bugler was turning point

Leinster SFC quarter-final: Dublin 3-19 Meath 0-12

A leisurely enough pipe-opener for Dublin in the end. They soaked up a bit of early chutzpah from Meath and eventually found their stride to run up the usual double-digit victory. You’d say it drove another nail into the coffin of the Leinster Championship, except that the coffin ran out of nail space a long time ago.

“The Leinster Championship is a shambles,” said Colm O’Rourke afterwards. “But that’s not Dublin’s fault. I suppose it’s the fault of teams like Meath who haven’t been competitive for a long, long time. To me, anyway, the obvious thing is the Leinster Championship should be played before the league. It’s absolutely ridiculous that teams in the league are waiting, waiting, waiting and don’t know what competition they are going to be playing in or when they will be playing.

“If the provincial championships were over, everyone would know exactly before they start the league, particularly those teams in the second and third division, what they had to do to ensure they play in the Sam Maguire. It’s very unsatisfactory, the present system.”

All of which is fine and true and old, old news. In the here and now, Meath gave it plenty but were outclassed by a Dublin team that wasn’t firing on anything like the form they showed in the league final a fortnight ago. As O’Rourke pointed out, Dublin had players who have more All-Ireland medals than some of his squad have championship appearances. The longer this went on, the more it told.


Still, they came out and had a go in the early exchanges. Far too often over the current reign of terror, they’ve come to Croke Park and been beaten before the anthem ended. Here, they shied away from nothing and pressed up on Dublin without worrying about the consequences. It worked too – they won six out of 10 of Stephen Cluxton’s first-half kick-outs.

Cluxton was appearing for his first game of 2024 and looked every bit of it. Apart from the rust in his kick-outs, he came up for one first-half free and shanked it short and wide. It’s 23 years since he made his championship debut – nobody has done more to earn the leeway of a creaking first day back.

As ever, Dublin had plenty of back-up to see him through it. Paul Mannion was in sparkling form at corner forward, landing one trademark skyscraper from out on the right and chipping in with his quota of frees as well. Mick Fitzsimons was making his first appearance of the year too and he was in full octopus mode every time Jordan Morris got on the ball. Colm Basquel was snappy and clinical in attack.

But the crucial moment of the first half was the Dublin goal. Meath had every reason to feel aggrieved about it – Bugler should have been called back for overcarrying as he bumped and dodgemed through to bury the ball into the roof of the Hill 16 net on 19 minutes.

Bugler was definitely fouled on his journey but referee Thomas Murphy neither blew for it nor raised his hand for an advantage. Instead, he looked on as Bugler gave it the AA treatment, taking all 12 steps on his way to finishing high past Billy Hogan. Later on, Murphy called a free against Meath sub Cian McBride for overcarrying after taking a mark. To fixate on such a venial sin while ignoring a game-changing mortal one seemed an odd choice.

In any case, Bugler’s goal sent Dublin into a 1-3 to 0-3 lead, turning what had been a keenly-contested opening into more familiar Leinster Championship fare. Mannion raked in a couple of handy points as Meath tried to gather themselves and in the space of three minutes the Dubs were five ahead.

Meath kept at it, for a while. Eoghan Frayne and Morris both applied lovely finishes to energetic passing moves from O’Rourke’s side and you could see that they were adamant that they had come to play. But Dublin’s cushion meant they could survive the odd errant kick-out and fluffed chance – Basquel and O’Callaghan both found their range before the break and Dublin went in 1-9 to 0-6 to the good.

Dessie Farrell’s side evidently used the half-time break to tighten the screws. They savaged the Meath kick-out in the third quarter – winning four of the first five – and though they weren’t able to convert those specific possessions into scores immediately, the pressure told all the same. Niall Scully swished a mark, John Small got forward for a smart left-footed score. When Ciarán Kilkenny nabbed his second of the day on 42 minutes, Dublin’s lead was out to seven.

It was shooting practice from there on out, really. Farrell ran his bench and got game-time into James McCarthy after a couple of months of rest. Cormac Costello and Paddy Small both came on and sniped a point and Mannion capped a fine display with a poacher’s finish just short of the hour mark. It was all a done deal long before O’Callaghan slid a goal to an empty net in injury-time.

Dublin roll on, then. Meath will fancy annoying somebody in the All-Ireland series though.

DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton; Seán McMahon, Cian Murphy (0-1), Eoin Murchan; Brian Howard, John Small (0-2), Mick Fitzsimons; Tom Lahiff, Ciarán Kilkenny (0-2); Ross McGarry, Seán Bugler (1-1), Niall Scully (0-1, mark); Paul Mannion (1-6, 0-4f), Con O’Callaghan (1-2, 0-1m), Colm Basquel (0-2).

Subs: James McCarthy for Basquel (50 mins); Paddy Small (0-1) for Scully (52); Killian McGinnis for Mannion, Cormac Costello (0-1) for McGarry (61); Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne for J Small (66).

MEATH: Billy Hogan (0-1, free); Donal Keogan, Adam O’Neill, Harry O’Higgins; Ciarán Caulfield (0-1), Ross Ryan, Seán Coffey; Ronan Jones (0-1, mark), Daithí McGowan; Darragh Campion (0-1), Eoghan Frayne (0-3, 0-2f), Cathal Hickey; Jordan Morris (0-3), Mathew Costello (0-1, free), James Conlon (0-1).

Subs: Jack O’Connor for Campion, (h-t); Cian McBride for McGowan (46 mins); Ruairí Kinsella for Ryan, Keith Curtis for Morris (58); Aaron Lynch for Conlon (62).

Referee: Thomas Murphy (Galway).

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times