Wednesday 17 January 2018

Dominant Dubs get show on the road

Dublin 2-21 Laois 2-10

Man of the Match Diarmuid Connolly scores Dublin’s second goal against Laois in Nowlan Park last night. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Man of the Match Diarmuid Connolly scores Dublin’s second goal against Laois in Nowlan Park last night. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin's James McCarthy in action against Laois' Paul Cahillane. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin's Kevin McManamon in action against Laois' Darren Strong. Photo: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

The occasion was different, the environment was different, the result much the same. A jittery spell in the second half notwithstanding, Dublin footballers, in their first championship match outside Croke Park since 2006, made light work of Laois to qualify for the provincial semi-finals where they will play the winners of Louth v Meath on June 26.

The Kilkenny venue, more noted as a hurling address, welcomed the All-Ireland football champions on a muggy summer's evening, the neatly refurbished stands quickly turning blue and in full voice. Two Dublin goals were scored in the opening six minutes, the first after just 14 seconds; the parameters were set down early.

Stephen Cluxton, the veteran goalkeeper, was the only survivor from the last team to embark on a championship venture outside the capital, on the team managed by Pillar Caffrey which defeated Longford narrowly in Pearse Park in 2006. That was a time when Dublin had a vulnerability which is rarely seen today. After their blistering start, Dean Rock scoring in the first attack, and Diarmuid Connolly adding a second after a Cluxton kick out found James McCarthy totally unmarked in the middle of the field, there was only a momentary semblance of a challenge from Laois, in the second half.

Their cause, already dismal, become wretched nine minutes before half-time when John O'Loughlin was red carded, after an incident in which Michael Darragh Macauley went down holding his face when the Laois man swung back an arm. After consulting with his linesman, referee Ciaran Branagan sent O'Loughin off the field. By half-time, at cruise speed, Dublin were 2-12 to 0-7 up.

After all the arguments surrounding Dublin's relationship with Croke Park, and the advantages that playing on Jones Road confer, the choice of Nowlan Park was a strange one. Football in Kilkenny often looks a candidate for euthanasia, clinging by a thread, suffering ritual humiliations. The sight of Kilkenny's junior football team, then, on the undercard, losing to London in the British Junior Football Championship, added a touch of surrealism to the evening.

Dublin followers have a chequered career in travel. In 2001 Abbeyleix turned into a great boa constrictor that swallowed up a stream of followers who were unable to beat the jams and make their match with Kerry on time. But they usually travel in big numbers when they get the opportunity and local businesses delight in the welcome injection of revenue to the economy. None of this would, you expect, have had the slightest impact on the kind of Dublin Jim Gavin has helped shape. They are slaves to the mantra of the next game, and then the next.

No matter where the games are played, the Leinster Championship has become their playground, easy enough to bore most normal teams. It has become a test of their concentration rather than their talent. Dublin have won every senior provincial crown since 2004 bar 2010, and Laois, clapped on by a few hardened supporters not accustomed to much success, were not expected to cause any undue stress. This was a Dublin without two of their best players, Jack McCaffrey and Rory O'Carroll, but roared on by a strong and vocal travelling support, they were expected to overcome those losses. And they did.

Dublin started with ten of the team that lined out against Kerry in last year's All-Ireland. With the crowd of just over 16,000 about to nod off Laois scored two second half goals in the space of four minutes. The first came from a counter attack with most of the Dublin team up the field, fancying a score. Damien O'Connor made a strong run and Jonny Cooper hauled him down. Paul Cahillane finished emphatically. The deficit went down to seven when Stephen Attride scored a fabulous second in the 47th minute. For a moment startled earwigs could be seen around the ground. Ross Munnelly came on and kicked a point. It was down to six.

Up stepped Connolly to settle the Dublin nerves with two points in quick succession, showing the stamp of leadership they needed. Rock clipped on two frees, and added one from play, a five-point response by the hour mark leaving them 2-19 to 2-8 clear. By then Bernard Brogan had been taken off, scoreless, and Dublin were making liberal use of the bench, and Laois looked like they had exhausted their scoring potential until Darren Strong made a burst and pointed well with four minutes left.

Dublin looked set for a third goal a minute from the end when Con O'Callaghan was dragged down and Connolly stepped up to the penalty. But his effort was saved brilliantly by Graham Brody. At least the Portlaoise man can cherish that memory from the night.

Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 1-10 (0-6 fs); D Connolly 1-4, C Kilkenny 0-4, D Byrne, K McManamon, C O'Callaghan 0-1. Laois: P Cahillane 1-2 (0-2 fs; 1-0 pen), S Attride 1-0, D Kingston 0-2 (0-1 f), G Walsh, J O'Loughlin, K Meaney, R Munnelly, D Strong, D O'Connor 0-1

Dublin: S Cluxton; D Byrne, J Cooper, P McMahon; J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; C Kilkenny, K McManamon, D Connolly; P Mannion, D Rock, B Brogan. Subs: D Bastick for Macauley (blood 28 mins); Macauley for Bastick (45); M Fitzsimons for McMahon (45); C Costello for Brogan (50); C O'Callaghan for Mannion (56); D Daly for O'Sullivan (58); E Lowdnes for Cooper & E O'Gara for Rock (62).

Laois: G Brody; D O'Connor, M Timmons, P Cotter; A Attride, D Strong, G Dillon; J O'Loughlin, B Quigley; E O'Carroll, P Cahillane, C Begley; D Kingston, C Meredith, G Walsh. Subs: K Meaney for O'Carroll (29 mins); N Donoher for Walsh (half time); R Munnelly for Dillon (47); A Farrelll for Cahillane (62); R O'Connor for Meredith & G Hanrahan for Cotter (66).

Referee: C Branagan (Down).

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