LAOIS 0-18 DUBLIN 0-18 MICHAEL O'GRADY, Dublin hurling evangelist, was almost dizzy at the prospect. Four championship matches in the one...
MICHAEL O'GRADY, Dublin hurling evangelist, was almost dizzy at the prospect.
Four championship matches in the one summer - ``the last time Dublin played four games must have been nineteen-o-something,'' he mused.
The Dublin manager was an animated mixture of relief and happiness after seeing his team force a dramatic draw with Laois in the Guinness Leinster championship at Nowlan Park yesterday.
Sean Duignan was the Dublin saviour with a last-minute point, and parity on the scoreboard also extended to the Leinster Council's round-robin group. So with Dublin and Laois tied on five points apiece, they must now go head-to-head again at O'Connor Park, Tullamore, on the June Bank Holiday Monday.
Barely 3,000 fans were present for yesterday's spectacle, but a lot more should be there for the rematch, coming as part of a double-header with the Laois/Westmeath football encounter.
Dublin officials appeared less than satisfied with Tullamore as the venue, given that Laois fans will now far outnumber their city counterparts.
But at half-time yesterday, Dublin would gladly have settled for the chance to hurl anywhere in June, even if it meant Abbeyleix or Adelaide. They trailed by 0-12 to 0-6 and, even with the benefits of the breeze to come, they looked in dire straits.
Dublin appeared stuck in league mode and even against a team of Laois's limited potential, it wasn't enough. The players who declined to play under ousted manager Padraig Horan were all present and correct. More important still, they were running the show for Laois.
Niall Rigney was rock-solid at wing-back but Paul Cuddy was even better alongside, gobbling up virtually every ball that rained down on the Laois half-back line.
Further out the field, his twin brother David was playing like a man who had just struck the Lotto jackpot. Cuddy couldn't miss and by the mid-point he already had eight points (including five frees) to his name.
Another mid-winter absentee, Fionán O'Sullivan, had chipped in with two points after several forays from the corner.
It might have been a different half-time tale if Duignan hadn't spurned a gilt-edged chance of a Dublin goal after just four minutes.
Tomás McGrane's free-taking still kept Dublin in touch for much of the half. When David Henry pointed after 24 minutes, the gap was down to two - but Laois responded with a gargantuan 90-yard point from Cyril Cuddy and they dominated from there to the break, with David Cuddy (three) and O'Sullivan (two) pointing the way.
O'Grady admitted he was ``slightly worried'' at this stage but added: ``The wind was strong - I felt we would come back.''
From the press box it was difficult to share his optimism but amazingly, midway through the second half, his side were level. And then with 15 minutes to go, they led for the first time through another McGrane free.
The third quarter was a mixture of Dublin defiance and chronic Laois shooting. Three quick points from Damien Russell, a McGrane free and Duignan ignited the comeback.
Meanwhile, David Cuddy suddenly unveiled feet of clay. He missed one free and then a 65. Brother Paul took the next 65 and made a hash of it. Perhaps the wind had a say, but self-doubt looked the bigger impediment as Laois lost their way.
After James Young and sprightly sub Ger Ennis exchanged points, Dublin hit three on the trot through McGrane, Ennis and McGrane again. Every Dublin point was preceded by a bad Laois wide. ``I never saw so much wides,'' lamented Laois boss Sean Cuddy. ``Shocking wides from in front of the goal. It was barbarous.''
Briefly, it went from bad to worse for Laois. McGrane's almost flawless exhibition of free-taking continued with another effort to give Dublin the lead. Belatedly, we had a championship humdinger on our hands.
Not for the first time, Cyril Cuddy rallied Laois with another prodigious point. Then Sean Power was penalised for over-carrying when he had been blatantly fouled. It wasn't the only contentious decision by Clare referee Sean McMahon, but David Cuddy pointed the free and Laois led again.
It was nip and tuck from there to the finish. David Sweeney equalised; Cuddy replied with a free. More Laois squanderlust was punished when Henry levelled again.
Another Cuddy free gave Laois the initiative, but Stephen Perkins set up McGrane for a sumptuous point from the touchline. Perkins undid his good work with a stupid foul, punished by Cuddy.
Then, on the stroke of full-time, salvation for Dublin with the best point of the game. A stunning catch by Diarmuid McInerney, a ball inside by Ennis and another good fetch, turn and shot by Duignan. Cuddy had a late chance to steal it with a long-range free but the ball tailed wide and the battle moves on to Tullamore.
MAN OF THE MATCH - D Cuddy (Laois).
SCORERS - Laois: D Cuddy 0-12 (9f), C Cuddy, F O'Sullivan 0-2 each, D Rooney, J Young 0-1 each. Dublin: T McGrane 0-8 (7f), D Henry, D Russell, S Duignan, G Ennis 0-2 each, D Sweeney, S Martin 0-1 each.
LAOIS - J Lyons 7; PJ Peacock 7, B Maher 6, N Lacey 7; N Rigney 7, P Cuddy 9, D Dowling 6; C Cuddy 8, D Conroy 6; D Rooney 7, D Cuddy 9, J Phelan 6; A Coffey 5, J Young 6, F O'Sullivan 8. Subs: D Culliton 6 for Coffey (51 mins), J O'Sullivan 6 for Conroy (55), P Mahon 6 for J O'Sullivan (65, inj).
DUBLIN - B McLoughlin 7; J Finnegan 6, S Power 7, C McCann 8; L Walsh 7, S Perkins 5, L O'Donoghue 6; D Sweeney 7, D McInerney 7; D Henry 7, S Martin 7, D Russell 8; T McGrane 9, S Duignan 7, D Daly 5. Subs: G Ennis 8 for O'Donoghue (34), G Glynn 6 for Daly (42).
REF - S McMahon (Clare).