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Quinn holds his nerve as Dubs bury their demons

DUBLIN 0-14 LAOIS 0-13 IT wasn't the most refined performance ever produced by Dublin in a Leinster football final but it was certainly among their bravest as they had to stand tall and true against Laois' second half storm while also curbing the inner demons that had attacked them so destructively in recent seasons.

In the end, they had achieved both to capture their 45th provincial title and ease into the All-Ireland quarter-final, a target that looked beyond them late on.

When Chris Conway hoisted Laois' 13th point in the 63rd minute to put his side two clear, it looked as if they had timed their run so cleverly that they might even surge well clear over the finishing lap. They wiped out a five-point interval deficit (0-7 to 0-2) and, after drawing level in the 52nd minute, recovered from another wobble of conceding three points to find themselves two ahead, thanks to five unanswered points between the 57th and 63rd minutes.

It left Dublin facing the ultimate test of their character and resolve, one which they met with a mental ferocity that many doubted they possessed. Nobody typified it better than place-kicker, Tomás 'Mossy' Quinn, who had earlier driven two frees and a '45 wide. It was a triple miss that must have sent doubts coursing through his mind but he managed to zap them and was calm and self-assured when he faced up to two crucial late kicks.

Facing into Hill 16, he needed to point a 43-metre free to level it up in the 69th minute which he duly did with a delightfully-flighted kick. And when Dublin hustled Laois into conceding a '45 a minute later, Quinn's radar saw him steer the winning kick safely home.

Both kicks were in marked contrast to efforts from Ross Munnelly who drove a 43 metre free wide in the 73th minute while centre-back, Tom Kelly, forward on auxiliary attacking duty, had another chance to level it up a little later but shot wide from left of goal.

On such margins are big games decided. It was unfortunate for Munnelly that his brilliant second half was tarnished by the late miss. Together with substitute Donie Brennan, he had been crucial in the revival, taking on the Dublin defence with fierce pace and precision.

The pair raced into productive angles and channels that were closed off in the first half and with Noel Garvan and Pauric Clancy increasing the possession share from midfield, Laois were far more fluent in the second half. But then it wouldn't have been difficult to improve on a truly awful first half when, apart from Aidan Fennelly and Padraig McMahon, Laois were under-performing all over the place.

Bryan Cullen's switch from left half-forward to the centre presented Kelly with a serious problem; Jason Sherlock was making life equally awkward for Joe Higgins and with Alan Brogan covering lots of space, the Laois defence were under intense pressure.

Conway's point in the third minute was Laois' only score for 18 minutes before he hit over a free, which turned out to be their final score of the half. With Ciaran Whelan winning good ball around midfield, Dublin repeatedly powered towards the Laois goal and, had their shooting been more accurate, they would have scored considerably more than seven points in the first half.

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While Laois were misfiring all over the place, they still managed to create two goal chances, neither of which were converted as first Conway shot too close to Stephen Cluxton in the 29th minute and then Munnelly flicked his lob wide.

Once again, Laois' inability to score goals, even from good chances, seriously undermined their prospects. At least one of those opportunities should have been converted but then this was the third successive Leinster final (2004 went to a replay) when they failed to score a goal, nor did they hit the net in the semi-final win over Kildare.

Dublin had lost captain Paddy Christie with a groin injury in the 18th minute but with Laois making so little progress, his absence wasn't really noticed until the second-half when the pressure was stepped up considerably. One can only surmise as to what Mick O'Dwyer said to his team at half-time but judging from their transformation in the second-half, it must have been very persuasive.

With midfield as the launch pad, they drove at the Dublin defence, rattling over five points in 12 minutes to draw level. Laois supporters in the record crowd of 81,025 must have thought they were set fair to pick up a sixth Leinster title.

On another day, they might have but Dublin's battling qualities re-surfaced, with Whelan, Brogan and Sherlock pointing to re-open a three-point gap. Now it was Laois' turn to tackle another mountain, which they did with an expansive flourish, scoring 0-5 in six minutes.

However, once again, Dublin appealed to their emotions and were rewarded for their zeal and conviction, scoring 0-3 late on to land their first provincial title since 2002. Despite the close call, Laois could have no complaints and they now face a major re-energising challenge before taking on Sligo, Monaghan, Derry or Cavan in the qualifiers.

And Dublin? First mission successfully completed by Paul Caffrey and Co, who are now in bonus territory, irrespective of what happens for the rest of the season.

SCORERS - Dublin: T Quinn 0-4 (3f, 1'45), B Cullen 0-3, J Sherlock 0-2, C Keaney, S O'Shaughnessy, C Whelan, A Brogan, C Moran 0-1 each. Laois: R Munnelly 0-5 (2f), C Conway 0-4 (2f), D Brennan, N Garvan 0-2 each.

DUBLIN - S Cluxton 8; P Griffin 7, P Christie 6, S O'Shaughnessy 6; C Goggins 6, B Cahill 8, P Casey 7; C Whelan 8, S Ryan 6; C Moran 7, A Brogan 8, B Cullen 8; J Sherlock 8, C Keaney 5, T Quinn 7. Subs: P Andrews 5 for Christie (18), S Connell 7 for Goggins (ht), D Homan 6 for Ryan (60). Yellow cards: P Casey (10), C Goggins (17), C Keaney (44), B Cullen (65).

LAOIS - F Byron 7; A Fennelly 8, D Rooney 6, J Higgins 5 ; C Begley 6, T Kelly 5, P McMahon 7; P Clancy 7, N Garvan 8; R Munnelly 8, B Brennan 5, B Sheehan 6; C Conway 7, K Fitzpatrick 5, B McDonald 5. Subs: D Brennan 8 for B Brennan (27), M Dunne 7 for McDonald (50), D Conroy 6 for Rooney (57). Yellow cards: D Brennan (31), A Fennelly (35).

REF - J McQuillan (Cavan).


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