DUBLIN 2-15 LAOIS 1-14 HE may not like to be reminded of the fact, but Dublin attacker Niall Butler played an unwitting role in the downfall of Laois hurlers at Tullamore yesterday.
With 12 minutes remaining in this Guinness Leinster championship round-robin play-off, Laois were a man down but two points to the good.
And then Butler saw red for a late lunge at John Lyons after the Laois 'keeper had offloaded the ball. With parity in numbers restored, you presumed that Laois would surely finish off the job - after all, they had rattled off 1-3 without any Dublin reply in the preceding seven minutes.
Ah, if only championship hurling was so easy to second-guess. Dublin regrouped and, in the closing ten minutes, caught fire. Six unanswered points turned the game on its head, and Dublin's belated fluency was reflected in three injury-time points.
By the final whistle, Laois were dead on their feet and Dublin thoughts were turning to Kilkenny. They now meet the Leinster champions at Croke Park on June 18 but, even in victory, manager Michael O'Grady did not sound like a man suffering from delusions of grandeur.
``We will be depending on a wing and a prayer,'' O'Grady admitted. ``We will probably have improved with the round-robin system, but we are a long way off the pace at that level.
``I hope it's one of those days for us, where we get the bounce of the ball and Kilkenny have an off-day.
``They had one last year - I just hope they have an off-day early rather than late this year,'' he added. His Laois counterpart, Sean Cuddy, was not looking for scapegoats among his own ranks. After the drawn match eight days earlier, he had memorably bemoaned the ``barbarous'' squanderlust of his team.
Now he praised a 100 per cent improvement from his players, some of whom ``weren't able to stand'' at the finish. But he was less complimentary about the performance of Tipperary referee Willie Barrett.
``You asked me the last day about the refereeing,'' Cuddy began, without any press prompting, ``but I didn't like the refereeing today. I thought it was shocking.''
Laois had been a man down from the 21st minute, when PJ Peacock played a captain's role of the worst variety by losing his cool with Sean Duignan. A red card duly followed and Peacock could have no real complaints. Nor was his manager making excuses.
But Cuddy was infuriated by Barrett's decision to wave away Laois claims for a penalty when Damien Culliton appeared to be dragged down by Conor McCann, with Dublin a point up and five minutes left on the clock.
``Blatant,'' he claimed, adding: ``He put off our man. I am not saying he wasn't entitled to be put off - he drew a box - but he got several chances after that and he gave just a yellow card.''
Maybe so, but from our vantage point, much of the wild pulling that ensued came from Laois hurls. In a combustible start to the second half, Declan Conroy of Laois and Dublin's Stephen Perkins were both booked for dangerous strokes.
Later still, Cyril Cuddy chopped down on the helmet of Dublin sub Ger Ennis and was lucky to only see yellow. He was one of six players booked, three from either side.
Amid the card tricks, we also had a hurling match that see-sawed back and forth.
Laois made the early running, and three well-executed points from Fionán O'Sullivan, Declan Rooney and James Young opened up a 0-6 to 0-3 cushion midway through the opening half.
Three points still separated the teams when the midlanders suffered a double blow. Presented with a goal chance, Duignan slipped at the wrong time but his tumble backfired on Laois.
The Dublin full-forward was fouled by Peacock and, in the ensuing flare-up, the Laois skipper was deemed culpable. He walked and, from the resultant Tomás McGrane free, the ball ricocheted off an upright and out to Shane Martin, who pulled emphatically and the net rippled.
Deep into first half injury time, Dublin scored a carbon copy goal and - against the run of play - led by 2-6 to 0-9. This time McGrane's free bounced out to Duignan and Laois were hit on the rebound once again.
After the early second half skirmishes, Laois regained the upper hand with Declan Conroy playing a Herculean role around midfield, Paul Cuddy dominating at centre-back and his twin brother David doing likewise at centre-forward.
In a six-minute burst midway through the half, they went from four points adrift to two points ahead and victory appeared within their grasp.
David Cuddy pointed his own free; Niall Rigney saw his 21-yard free blocked on the line only for Conroy to goal on the rebound; then Rigney and Cuddy pointed Laois towards likely victory.
But that all changed after Butler's dismissal. Dublin seized the initiative with points from David Sweeney, a McGrane free and Ennis. Then in injury-time, Sweeney and McGrane (twice) applied the finishing touches.
MAN OF THE MATCH - D Conroy (Laois).
SCORERS - Dublin: T McGrane 0-8 (7f), S Martin, S Duignan 1-1 each, D Sweeney 0-2, D Henry, N Butler, G Ennis 0-1 each. Laois: D Cuddy 0-6 (4f), D Conroy 1-0, D Rooney, A Coffey 0-2 each, D Dowling, N Rigney, J Young, F O'Sullivan 0-1 each.
DUBLIN - B McLoughlin 7; J Finnegan 7, S Power 8, C McCann 7; L Walsh 8, S Perkins 6, L O'Donoghue 6; S Martin 8, D McInerney 7; D Henry 6, D Sweeney 8, D Russell 6; T McGrane 7, S Duignan 7, N Butler 6. Subs: G Ennis 7 for O'Donoghue (31 mins), G Glynn 6 for Russell (54 mins), D McMullen for Duignan (68 mins).
LAOIS - J Lyons 7; PJ Peacock 5, B Maher 7, N Lacey 7; N Rigney 6, P Cuddy 8, D Dowling 7; C Cuddy 7, D Conroy 9; D Rooney 8, D Cuddy 8, J Phelan 6; A Coffey 7, J Young 6, F O'Sullivan 7. Subs: J O'Sullivan 6 for Young (22 mins), D Culliton 7 for Phelan (34 mins), D Keenan for Coffey (67 mins), L Tynan and D Rooney for Conroy and C Cuddy (70 mins).
REF - W Barrett (Tipperary).