Gilroy demands Dublin response
Dublin 1-12 Laois 0-12
ALL-IRELAND SFC QUARTER-FINAL
DUBLIN have been beaten on days when they played better; Laois have won games where they played worse.
A curious mix then from Saturday evening in Croke Park but, ultimately, all that mattered for Dublin was their booking of an All-Ireland semi-final appointment on September 2.
For Laois, the impressive recovery to a season that appeared utterly sterile after the Leinster first-round defeat by Longford will have given them some satisfaction, albeit against a frustrating background, arising from a missed opportunity in their first All-Ireland quarter-final appearance for six years.
"Close but no cigar," sighed Laois manager Justin McNulty, as he reflected on a game in which Laois produced far sturdier resistance than many expected would be the case. Indeed, with a little more creativity and finishing finesse, they might well have delivered the biggest shock of the championship.
Instead, they became Dublin's 25th Leinster victims in the championship over the last eight seasons, leaving Laois to reflect on a game where a lack of forward class undermined them.
They replaced four forwards in the second half, plus one of the subs, as McNulty attempted to find the code to unlock Dublin's security system, a challenge that ultimately proved beyond Laois.
Dublin were having their own problems at the other end but, happily for them, were able to live off the priceless dividend of a first-half goal.
It came in the 27th minute, at a time when the sides were level (0-6 each) for the sixth time. Michael Darragh Macauley, a constant source of menace from a wide variety of approach routes, angled in on the Laois goal and as he attempted to punch the ball over the bar, it was deflected into the net by a back-tracking John O'Loughlin.
While Laois chased the game with relentless endeavour, they never managed to claw back all three points. They came within a point of Dublin in the 49th minute (1-8 to 0-10) but lost the final quarter, 0-4 to 0-2.
Laois failed to score from open play in the second half and kicked no wides, a combination of circumstances which underlines the shortage of openings they managed to create in the Dublin half. Not that Dublin were without their own problems at the other end.
Without Alan Brogan, due to a groin injury, the attack lacked structure and were far too easily bustled into errors by a gritty Laois defence. Even Bernard Brogan, so often Dublin's deadliest sniper, lost his way and was replaced by 'Mossy' Quinn in the 62nd minute.
Had Laois been told in advance that they would restrict Brogan to a single point from open play and that Dublin's starting attack would score only 1-4 from play, they would have really fancied their chances, but they needed a sharper cutting edge to make that happen.
Pat Gilroy spoke afterwards of the amount of work Dublin have to do before the clash with Mayo and, while he didn't specify the areas most up for review, they certainly need to develop more fluency in their attacking moves.
Midfielders Eamon Fennell, Denis Bastick and later on, Macauley won lots of primary possession but many of the subsequent attempts to break the Laois resistance came unstuck with wrong option-taking, sloppy passing and poor finishing.
Paul Flynn did his best to bring order to the attack, but it wasn't until Kevin McManamon arrived for the final quarter that Dublin came anywhere close to restoring the level of forward coherence that took them to All-Ireland glory.
Captain Bryan Cullen stressed afterwards that Dublin in no way under-estimated Laois, but, at the same time, they would have expected to prove superior to a team they beat by eight points in last year's Leinster quarter-final. That can be a dangerous burden to carry into any game.
Early on, it looked as if Dublin might win as easily as last year as the attack stretched the Laois defence close to breaking point.
Brogan had a goal chance in the eighth minute but drove over the bar, while a later effort was saved by Eoin Culliton. However, as the half progressed, Cahir Healy got a better read on Brogan's running angles and made life much more difficult for him.
At the other end, Ross Munnelly, Gary Walsh and Padraig Clancy were making reasonable progress against the Dublin defence although those problems would later be sorted out as Kevin Nolan, James McCarthy and sub Ger Brennan asserted themselves.
Dublin's tackling technique clearly didn't impress referee Cormac Reilly, who awarded Laois over twice as many frees (30-14). Gilroy later expressed surprise at those statistics. He admitted to being concerned over many aspects of Dublin's play, not least the failure to turn lots of possession into scores.
"We owned the ball for long periods of the second half, but at the same time didn't get the scores," he said.
However, he saw a possible upside to a difficult battle which will certainly have focused the players' minds on what is required from now on. "Maybe this was exactly the type of game we needed. It could be great preparation."
Time may prove him right. He will also be hoping that Alan Brogan is fit for the semi-final as, without his instinct, experience and leadership qualities, the attack loses a substantial amount of power. Luckily for Dublin, they have plenty of high-class support troops (Diarmuid Connolly started in place of Brogan), unlike Laois, whose subs made no real impact.
"We needed to create more attacking chances but, in fairness to Dublin, we found it hard because of their good defensive system. They have it very well honed. They hunt you down, don't give you any breathing space -- they're very good at it. That's what it takes for teams to win," said McNulty.
Dublin have certainly learned the art of surviving while not playing especially well, but as the stakes get higher against better opposition, they will need to improve if they hope to retain the title. The next few weeks will be pretty intense on the Dublin training ground.
Scorers -- Dublin: B Brogan 0-4 (3f), J O'Loughlin 1-0 (o-g), S Cluxton 0-3 (2 '45's, 1f), P Flynn 0-2, D Bastick, E O'Gara, K Nolan 0-1 each. Laois: R Munnelly 0-4 (3f), C Kelly 0-3f, MJ Tierney (2f), G Walsh 0-2 each, C Begley 0-1.
Dublin -- S Cluxton 7; M Fitzsimons 7, R O'Carroll 7, P McMahon 6; J McCarthy 7, K Nolan 8, C O'Sullivan 7; E Fennell 8, D Bastick 7; P Flynn 9, D Connolly 7, B Cullen 7; B Brogan 6, MD Macauley 9, E O'Gara 7. Subs: C Kilkenny 6 for Connolly (42), K McManamon 7 for Bastick (52), G Brennan 7 for McMahon (54), T Quinn 6 for Brogan (62).
Laois -- E Culliton 7; C Healy 7, K Meaney 6, P O'Leary 7; D Strong 7, J O'Loughlin 7, C Boyle 6; B Quigley 7, C Begley 7; R Munnelly 8, G Walsh 7, D O'Connor 5; B Sheehan 5, P Clancy 6, C Kelly 6. Subs: P McMahon 5 for Walsh (50), MJ Tierney 6 for O'Connor (54), P Cahillane 5 for Kelly (58), K Lillis for Sheehan (66), S O'Leary for McMahon (71).
Ref -- C Reilly (Meath).