Saturday 22 September 2018

Alan Brogan on the 'more sizzle than steak' incident during the 2003 Leinster semi-final defeat to Laois

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Laois players Hugh Emerson and Brian McDonald celebrate after beating Dublin in 2003
Laois players Hugh Emerson and Brian McDonald celebrate after beating Dublin in 2003

Alan Brogan

LAOIS evoke two very different memories from my time with Dublin. The 2003 clash, our only defeat to them, is probably the one people most vividly recall.

That was a bad loss for us.

We won our first Leinster title after seven years in 2002 with a young team and got within half the width of a post to force an All-Ireland semi-final replay.

So we expected to continue our rapid ascendancy into the realms of All-Ireland contenders, accelerating up a certain path to Sam Maguire.

And then Laois beat us.

Funnily enough, my abiding memory of that game was the row that broke out at half-time, an incident GAA PRO Danny Lynch called “more sizzle than steak” when the reports of an investigation being launched hit the papers on Monday morning.

A fair few got involved at the time though. Back then, there was a small room off the main corridor in  the tunnel under the Hogan Stand, presumably for officials of some description.

For reasons best known to themselves, Peadar Andrews and Hugh Emerson squared off and wound up in that the little room, sorting it out between themselves.

Now, Peadar’s a big man but if I had to pick a fella from Laois I’d least like to be caged in a small room with, it’d probably be Hughie Emerson!

There was only two points in it that day but the stinging truth was they beat us well.

People were quick to assign the victory as another of Micko miracle and no doubt he brought a lift to the county that year.

But Laois had a good team.

Fergal Byron, Tom Kelly, Joe Higgins, Pádraic Clancy, ‘Beano’ McDonald, Ross Munnelly – strong players who deserved their Leinster medal and probably a bit more that they didn’t win.

It set us back, though. And that momentum from ’02 vanished.

We had a couple of poor years and that’s why the 2005 Leinster final is such a good memory for me.

Micko was still with Laois at the time and the players had a bit of a swagger about them.

A fair few of them had All-Ireland minor medals and it showed in the way that they carried themselves on the pitch.

But again, that was a good team.

Higgins was as good a man-marker as I ever came across.

Chris Conway and Noel Garvan both had big seasons that year.

‘Mossie’ Quinn showed huge guts for us that day and it was him, more than any other Dublin player, that I was most delighted for.

He kicked a free from 46 metres after exactly 70 minutes to level the match and then, four minutes into injury-time, nailed a ’45 to win it after I bundled Higgins over the end line.

And we celebrated it like it was a moon landing!

There was 81,025 in Croke Park that day and it was probably the last great Leinster final.

We went on to get a stranglehold on Leinster under ‘Pillar’ Caffrey after that and Laois had their moments too, but it always felt like we had it over them.

Funnily enough though, they always seemed like a threat.

You weren’t quite sure what you were going to get from Laois because they had the talent to spring a big performance from nowhere.

But they probably never made full use of their generation of underage stars and they’ve chopped and changed managers a lot over the last decade.

That they haven’t been in a Leinster final in 11 years, given the paucity of contenders in the province in that time, probably tells its own story.

But they’re on a roll this year, even if the early part of it was spent in Division 4.

They showed admirable patience and nerve to grind Carlow down in a dangerous semi-final two weeks ago but Sunday will be a test of an altogether different nature.

Dublin were poor in the second half against a Longford team with 14 men, so I’d expect a reaction.

John Sugrue’s team don’t have it in them to beat Dublin on Sunday but a performance could go a long way to making sure they get the best out of the rest of their summer.

They’ll only be one win away from a spot in the ‘Super 8s’ on Sunday evening. That’s an opportunity they can’t let slip through their fingers.

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