Eugene McGee: Air of unreality finds Laois between Rock ... and a hard place
There has been an air of unreality about the Leinster Championship game between Dublin and Laois from the day it was announced last autumn. It started with the fixing of the game in Nowlan Park, a ground where football is rarely seen nowadays. If reality had been applied, the game would have been fixed for Portlaoise in a normal home-and-away contest since Dublin have been at home to Laois many times in Croke Park in recent years.
Further unreality kicked in when the reason given for this venue choice was because there are more seats in Kilkenny as opposed to Portlaoise and apparently those gentle Dublin GAA folk preferred to sit down which is strange when we remember the massive crowds that are standing Dublin regulars on Hill 16.
In the event 10,000 fans who could have attended this much-touted fixture stayed at home which is sad.
When it came to the game itself it too was dominated by a fair share of unreality, not least the opening four minutes when the Laois players seemed half asleep and let Dean Rock and Diarmuid Connolly practically walk the ball into the net to ensure that the result of the contest was already decided there and then as was proven by the 10th minute when Laois found themselves no less than ten points in arrears.
Regarding the game overall, from that point onwards then reality was certainly conspicuous by its absence because this Dublin performance was not what we have been accustomed to seeing in the past few years. For instance, Laois scored more than Dublin in the second half, ten points to nine.
Dublin conceded two goals from a penalty and play in less than five minutes. Connolly failed to score from a penalty, another bit of unreality.
From a Laois point of view, after a diabolical first half, during which they saw one of their main men John O'Loughlin sent off with a straight red card in the 27th minute, they did stage a respectable rally that brought the deficit down to six points in the 50th minute and about half their players saved face, even with 14 men.
But in the opening period Laois were brutal and only managed three points in the opening half hour.
Evan O'Carroll, one of the best young players in the county, was taken off early and it looked as if several players did not match the fitness levels accepted as the norm in county football nowadays.
There can be no excuse for that and Laois or any other county cannot blame Dublin football for that either; the standards are set by the Dubs and it is up to the others to match them.
Solid Dublin followers in Kilkenny will have been somewhat disappointed with a lot of what they witnessed in Nowlan Park but we must also put in the proviso that like any top-class team the only reason for playing a championship game is to get into the next round and that was achieved after ten minutes of the first half.
Yet there seemed to be an unusually high number of bits and pieces of the Dublin machine that needed some adjustments. Ten wides against 14-man opponents does not seem right for Dublin. Neither does the failure of some of the starting forwards to play their usual dominant role so that several were replaced.
Playing a sweeper when they had only 14 players did not seem a wise move for Laois but then no respectable county team nowadays will operate without a sweeper even if most of them haven't a clue how to actually operate that role.
In this case it might have made more sense to have a tight man-marker on a player like Ciaran Kilkenny to try to curb his devastating movement over and back across the field which helped to create so many wonderful scores.
Maybe that is too old-fashioned for the 'academic'-style managers of the present times but mark my words if any team wants to beat Dublin this year they will have to ensure that even a small number of their most influential players are curbed for that one day at least and the ability to have players who can grind an opponent into the ground by tight marking is one of the few ways to ensure that happens.
Let us watch the rest of the season to see if any county sets about implementing such a project, or will they continue to let the leading Dublin players run amok all over the field. But don't hold your breath on that one!
Jim Gavin got the ideal result in Kilkenny - a substantial victory with a high score but leaving enough mistakes and lack of the killer streak to ensure he has a licence to kill when training resumes for the next game against Meath or Louth.
There will be a lot less messing from Dublin players for that game and, oh yes, they will all be back in their usual haunt in Croke Park for the rest of the season.
Happy days for Dublin.