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Dreadful fare as Dubs sleepwalk to victory


Diarmuid Connolly slides home Dublin's first goal. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Diarmuid Connolly slides home Dublin's first goal. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Diarmuid Connolly slides home Dublin's first goal. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

There were times during this Leinster championship quarter-final when you felt the urge to craft an implicit public apology to the players of Donegal and Antrim for any unwarranted comment that may have been directed towards them in the wake of their championship opener in Ballybofey three weeks earlier.

Remember the blizzard of criticism that blew their way in the wake of that horribly negative affair?

We thought, for entertainment value, it couldn't get any worse but the second part of yesterday's Croke Park double bill certainly made a decent stab of it.

One snapshot near the end is worth recording to give an illustration of what it was like.

Running down the clock, Dublin moved the ball backwards, from a decent attacking position, through four different players before eventually Ger Brennan was fouled for a free just inside his own half. Territorially, they lost about 40 metres but they still had possession.

Yet, it looked so pedestrian and was symptomatic of the way it was for so much of this game -- lifeless and lacking ambition. Long before the end those in the 41,784 crowd who had stayed on had completely disengaged.

It's been said before and will be said again: it's not a players' priority to entertain. They play to a plan, they play to win.

And in Dublin's case they have been for so long the great entertainers, more often than not to their detriment, that they'll feel it's the turn of other teams to worry about the art form.

In that sense, they did what they had to do and what this team has been doing so well since the middle of last summer. As early as the end of the first quarter they knew they had this game in the palm of their hand.

Rory O'Carroll showed no signs of lethargy after his spring lay-off, while Kevin Nolan and Ger Brennan were dominant figures across their half-back line. Collectively the defence displayed only minor lapses of concentration, which was understandable given the nature of the game, the opposition and the atmosphere.

Any decent passage of play was constructed by the team in sky blue, particularly when their full-forward line was in harmony.

Between Bernard and Alan Brogan and Dermot Connolly, they conjured 1-9 from play.

Alan Brogan didn't let the disappointment of missing the league final through suspension linger long and was easily Dublin's most influential and creative player.

Connolly chipped in with 1-3, which might have been 3-3 were it not for the attentiveness of Laois goalkeeper Eoin Culliton, who denied the St Vincent's man with two smart saves in the opening five minutes to bail out a leaking defence.

Bernard Brogan also found space to fire over three points but was generally well policed by Cahir Healy, who made a significant number of blocks on his illustrious opponent.

Laois looked like a team that came not to win, but to survive. They seemed to accept their fate long before it was decided, as if they knew it was a game beyond their reach.

Despite gaining league promotion to Division One again, there has been criticism from within the county of the style of play they have been adhering to, a style with a very defensive hue. The dearth of Laois support in the stands may have been testament to that. The lack of ambition was palpable from them.

The defeat will potentially damage Laois morale. Justin McNulty elected not to attend the post-match media conference. Clearly there was no onus to give any explanation as to why Laois played as they did. Or maybe he just wasn't up to it as the disappointment took its toll.

McNulty has other matters to address in the weeks ahead apart from the paucity of his team's performance. Sideline observers recounted afterwards that one Laois substitute declined an invitation late in the game to come on when the game was beyond them.

Physically, Laois were in serious deficit to a Dublin team that looked powerful in contact at all times and it was a fact that Pat Gilroy was happy to acknowledge afterwards.

"It's the difference between being in Division Two and Division One for a couple of years," he figured. "Laois have made great strides this year already, and you can see they are physically stronger than they have been in the past.

"The lads have a bit more of that under their belts and you could see the difference in the second half. In particular when there were 50-50 balls late on, we were winning most of them."

Culliton's string of great saves apart, he struggled with his kick-outs and that was the source of Dublin's goal as Alan Brogan showed wonderful vision and nerve to put in Connolly from close range, the shot beneath the 'keeper's body the right choice after he had blocked the two to his side in those opening five minutes.

Another fine save from Culliton on 30 minutes prevented further leakage after Bernard Brogan had snatched possession from Healy, but Stephen Cluxton stepped up to convert the second of his three '45s.

The Cluxton kick-out strategy didn't work as smoothly as it normally does, however, and it was noticeable early in the second half that Dublin lost four in a row that allowed Laois to reduce a 1-7 to 0-5 interval deficit to just two points.

Two Pauric McMahon points just before the break that gave Laois an unbroken sequence of five points but once Bernard Brogan took advantage of Ger Brennan's crossfield pass on 44 minutes they were able to slip comfortably back into gear again. By the 60th minute, they were out of sight once more, Alan Brogan linking with substitute Eoghan O'Gara for a seventh point without reply and a 1-14 to 0-8 lead. Laois had long since succumbed to the inevitable.

Scorers -- Dublin: D Connolly 1-3, B Brogan 0-5 (2f), S Cluxton (3 '45s), A Brogan 0-3 each, B Cullen, T Quinn (f) 0-1 each.

Laois: R Munnelly 0-4 (2f), D Carroll, P McMahon, G Kavanagh all 0-2 each, C Begley 0-1.

Dublin -- S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 7, R O'Carroll 7, M Fitzsimons 6; J McCarthy 6, G Brennan 7, K Nolan 7; MD Macauley 7, B Cahill 5; P Flynn 7, K McManamon 5, B Cullen 7; A Brogan 9, D Connolly 8, B Brogan 7. Subs: D Bastick 6 for Cahill (43), E O'Gara 6 for McManamon (47), T Quinn for B Brogan (63), R McConnell for Macauley (65), D Lally for Cullen (68).

Laois -- E Culliton 9; P McMahon 7, M Timmons 5, C Healy 7; S Julian 6, P O'Leary 6, D Strong 6; K Meaney 6, B Quigley 7; C Begley 5, J O'Loughlin 5, N Donagher 4; R Munnelly 7, B Sheehan 4, D Carroll 6. Subs: D Kingston 5 for Sheehan (h-t), K Lillis for O'Loughlin (51), G Kavanagh 7 for Carroll (54), C Boyle for Timmons (61).

Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan)

Irish Independent