Macauley's strike helps Dubs blow off the cobwebs
Gavin pleased with display after Laois ask questions of champions
Dublin experienced some turbulence during their championship take-off, but having patiently charted an escape route, they settled in for a comfortable cruise into a Leinster semi-final clash with Wexford.
Dublin 2-21 Laois 0-16 - Leinster SFC
In many ways, it was the ideal championship launch, raising problems in the first half which had to be worked through before all the component parts of a very smooth system united to deliver a comfortable win. If Dublin had taken charge from the start, it wouldn't have tested their problem-solving capacity, which is so central to the success of any team over the course of a season.
Laois presented Dublin with a wide range of difficulties in the first half and remained stubbornly defiant even when the champions raised their game considerably in the third quarter.
However, once Michael Darragh Macauley scored Dublin's second goal in the 55th minute to extend the lead to six points, the Laois challenge disintegrated.
They scored only three more points while Dublin kicked eight, six of which came in an unanswered run over the final seven minutes. The six were evenly shared by Dean Rock (three frees) and Cormac Costello, while earlier on, two other subs, Kevin McManamon (two) and Bryan Cullen (one) joined the scoring band too.
The strength of the Dublin bench is one of their greatest assets, allowing them to interchange without losing any power. Thus, when Bernard Brogan left the action with a tweaked hamstring after 24 minutes, it caused no alarm for Dublin, who replaced him with Kevin McManamon.
The St Jude's man turned in a fine performance as part of an attack which sorted out the Laois puzzle very effectively in the second half. And when Eoghan O'Gara, who was having a frustrating afternoon, was replaced by Bryan Cullen in the 44th minute, it further added to the coherence levels.
So, too, did the arrival of Costello and Rock, a pair who, like McManamon and Cullen, would be starting certainties for most other counties. The same goes for Paul Mannion, who saw some late action.
"The experienced guys that they brought on made a big difference," remarked Laois manager, Tomás ó Flaharta ruefully, no doubt contemplating what impact a similar injection of power would have had on his side.
He had to deal from a far less experienced hand when it came to attempting to repair the growing number of leaks Laois sprung in the second half.
The attack managed to score only six points in that period as all except Ross Munnelly and Donie Kingston got sucked into Dublin's defensive vortex.
Munnelly was the day's star performer, scoring 0-7 (0-5 from open play), while looking very much like a man who would wreak much more damage if enough possession came his way.
Kingston was Munnelly's main support in attack; John O'Loughlin worked hard at midfield, while Colm Begley got forward as often as he could but all this was happening against a background where Dublin were much more forceful than in the first half.
They finished the opening period two points adrift (0-10 to 0-8), having trailed most of the way.
Laois were slicker in many areas and with Munnelly tormenting a range of Dublin markers, it looked very much a case of opening day cobwebs fouling up the All-Ireland champions' system.
Dublin kicked 10 wides in the first half while also being denied two goals when shots by Paddy Andrews and Diarmuid Connolly thudded off the woodwork.
Laois missed some good chances, too, and when they finished the half with eight wides, one sensed that their wastefulness would haunt them later on.
Dublin were always likely to improve in the second half, a process which started immediately.
They scored the first four points before Laois sub Niall Donoher broke the sequence. However, Dublin pounced for a goal from Connolly in the 47th minute and while Laois pared back two points, the distress signals were becoming more frequent.
A defensive error left excellent Laois goalie Graham Brody stranded in the 55th minute and there was nothing he could do to prevent Macauley firing to the net.
That, effectively, was the end for Laois.
"Goals make a big difference to a game. We recovered after the first one but when they got the second one, we needed to get one back," said ó Flaharta.
The problem for Laois was that the Dublin defence, which had struggled throughout much of the first half, had raised their security levels.
The half-time assessment had sorted out the problems and as Dublin came to terms with the requirements in what was their first competitive game in six weeks, Laois found themselves squeezed on all fronts.
"Laois had 70 minutes of championship football behind them (v Wicklow) and that counts for a lot," said Dublin manager Jim Gavin.
He will be pleased with the manner in which his side raised the tempo in the second half while also improving considerably in accuracy, support play and general industry.
They were still quite some way short of full power, but, as an opening shot at retaining their Leinster and All-Ireland titles, it was quite satisfactory.
"We need to be a bit more clinical in our shooting," said Gavin, who will no doubt use the first half lethargy as a starting point for the build-up to the semi-final.
The intense battle for places will make the training games ultra-competitive, although Gavin insists that it's all about a squad mentality, as opposed to the starting 15.
"We don't place too much emphasis on the numbers. Players expect a lot from each other whether they start or come on. That's the ethos that they have," he said.
It worked to near-perfection for them last year and, with the Allianz League title already secured and the first fence in the championship race safely negotiated, all the signs are that the range of choice available to Gavin will make Dublin very hard to beat.
Laois, meanwhile, will take quite a few positives – especially from the first half – on to the 'back door' circuit.
They did well in the qualifiers over the last two seasons and provided they take the right attitude out of yesterday's game, their summer could extend for quite a while yet.
"We worked very hard today. The lads have done that throughout the year and we'll need more of it in the qualifiers.
"We'll look at what worked for us today and what didn't and decide what needs to be done," said O Flaharta.
Scorers – Dublin: D Connolly 1-1, MD Macauley 1-0, P Flynn, D Rock (3fs), C Costello, 0-3 each, S Cluxton (2 '45s) K McManamon, 0-2 each, A Brogan, B Brogan (1f), P Andrews, E O'Gara, J McCarthy, B Cullen, C O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Laois: R Munnelly 0-7 (2fs), D Kingston 0-3 (2fs), D Strong 0-2, D Conway, J Finn, N Donoher, J O'Loughlin 0-1 each.
Dublin – S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 6, R O'Carroll 7, J Cooper 6; J McCarthy 6, N Devereux 7, D Daly 6; MD Macauley 7, C O'Sullivan 6; P Flynn 8, P Andrews 7, D Connolly 7; A Brogan 6, E O'Gara 5, B Brogan 6. Subs: K McManamon 8 for B Brogan (24), J McCaffrey 7 for Daly (29), B Cullen 7 for O'Gara (44), C Costello 7 for A Brogan (51), D Rock 7 for O'Sullivan (59), P Mannion for Andrews (67).
Laois – G Brody 8; P McMahon 6, P Begley 5, P O'Leary 6; D Strong 7, S Attride 5, C Begley 7; K Meaney 6, J O'Loughlin 7; J Finn 6, D Kingston 7, B Sheehan 5; R Munnelly 9, C Meredith 6, D Conway 5. Subs: N Donoher 6 for Sheehan (31), E Lowry 5 for Meaney (51), R Kehoe 5 for Attride (59), E O'Connell for Conway (65),P Kingston for Finn (67).
Ref – P Hughes (Armagh)