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comment Dublin’s flame blazes on as an evening commemorating Bloody Sunday was lit up by Farrell’s team

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Con O’Callaghan of Dublin in action against David Toner of Meath, left, and Séamus Lavin

Con O’Callaghan of Dublin in action against David Toner of Meath, left, and Séamus Lavin

SPORTSFILE

Con O’Callaghan of Dublin in action against David Toner of Meath, left, and Séamus Lavin

THE Bloody Sunday torches stood in shimmering, respectful sentinel on Hill 16 as, down below, on a night that burned with the ache of history, Dublin’s eternal flame blazed on.

An evening that so tastefully commemorated the centenary of an unspeakable slaughter was lit up by this team of all the talents, one that may well still be celebrated one-hundred years from now.

Dublin’s uniform was embroidered with the names of the 14 who perished on this plot of land on November 21st, 1920; their performance stitched one more eye-catching brocade into their tapestry of shattering brilliance.

They advance to an All-Ireland semi-final with Donegal or Cavan having composed another verse in their epic poem of high achievement and relentless striving to set ever more immortal milestones.

The story of the city boys golden age of dominance is being penned in immaculate, indelible sky blue calligraphy.

A powerful, evocative, classy and deeply moving ceremony set the perfect tone on a landmark night.

As Brendan Gleeson delivered a touching roll call of the butchered, 14 torches were illuminated in an otherwise entirely blacked-out Croke Park: Each shimmering beacon relighting a life extinguished 100 years ago.

A specially commissioned, hauntingly tender piece of music, More Than a Game, punctured the silence.

It touched the marrow and invaded the soul.

The GAA excel at moments like this. This was solemn, dignified, eloquent and extraordinarily rousing. Most of all it was beautiful, truly beautiful.

Even though the arena was sadly deserted, the huge emotional voltage of a perfectly-pitched observance sent a sizzle across the old coliseum, the echoes of that brutal day 100 years ago when it was transformed into a pitiless killing field rolling across the decades.

Each lantern glittered like a diamond in a Tiffany’s window.

And the spirits of the lost 14 – Jane Boyle (buried in the wedding dress she never got to wear in life), James Burke, Daniel Carroll, Michael Feery, Michael Hogan, Tom Hogan, James Matthews, Patrick O’Dowd, Jerome O’Leary, William Robinson, Tom Ryan, John William Scott, James Teehan and Joseph Traynor – filled Croke Park as surely as if they were 80,000 in number.

What followed was an entirely legitimate, if, for Meath, crushing type of sporting genocide.

Approaching the 30th anniversary of the imperishable four-game rumble between these beasts of the east, a decade on from the Royals most recent five-goal act of defiance, Dublin sent their one-time nemesis into a dizzying death spiral.

By half-time, the five-in-a-row masters of the era were 16 points clear (holding Meath to just two points), the contest long complete, the champions out the gap and gone.

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Dean Rock scores his side's first goal against Meath

Dean Rock scores his side's first goal against Meath

SPORTSFILE

Dean Rock scores his side's first goal against Meath

It was shock-and-awe football, Dublin outstanding at both ends, re-energised, decommissioning Royal ambitions, censoring all hope.

The only downsides came in the dying embers of the battle: Sub Cormac Costello receiving a straight red-card, the once again impressive Seán Bugler pulling up clutching his hamstring when firing a late point.

The outstanding Dean Rock’s opening goal offered the perfect study of how Dublin shut out the sun.

Jordan Morris had just kicked Meath into a 0-2 tie. Ten seconds later, his team had been euthanised.

Stephen Cluxton arrowed a trademark kick into the night; at half-way Con O’Callaghan soared like an eagle to pluck it from the skies on the half-turn, the delivery so precise, the leap so perfectly timed, that he landed racing toward goal.

Niall Scully and Brian Fenton, a blur of choreographed movement, took the ball on; Rock’s reptilian finish was that of a master craftsman at the very peak of his powers.

Dublin do so many little things that can only be weighed in gold.

Their total football culture was illustrated by Paddy Small – a corner-forward who would fire three points – launching a move that would end with a Ciarán Kilkenny point with a dispossession ten yards from Cluxton’s net.

Their selflessness, that enduring ability to place the needs of the team above any personal ambition, was in evidence as Robbie McDaid teed-up Bugler for Dublin’s second goal when a less-well drilled player might have shot himself.

Their terrifying depth was highlighted by the second-half introductions of Brian Howard and Paul Mannion, a pair of current A-list All-Stars held in reserve by Dessie Farrell.

It was a deeply satisfying night for Farrell and not merely because a tenth consecutive Leinster for Dublin represented a first piece of tin since accepting the baton from Jim Gavin.

This was a significant step up in quality on anything seen since last September’s embrace of history.

Rock purred with the classy efficiency that is his trademark; Kilkenny’s four-point haul brought the Footballer of the Year favourite’s tally from play to 1-12 in three games.

Bugler, McDaid (undaunted by stepping into Jack McCaffrey’s footprints) and Paddy Small – the three Farrell installed newcomers to the 2020 starting XV, oozed energy and menace.

Stephen Cluxton, winning his 16th Leinster title (if he were a county he’d been third on the scroll of honour) was as timeless and accurate in his distribution as his fellow quarterback veteran, Tom Brady.

O’Callaghan looked like a player timing his movement through the gears perfectly for the days ahead; Niall Scully’s understated, cerebral link-play again shone.

And, exactly 100 years on from the GAA’s most painful hour, the Bloody Sunday tapers blazing powerfully on Hill 16, Dublin’s eternal flame burns on.

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