Dublin seal eighth straight Leinster crown after overcoming stuttering start to cruise to victory over Laois
Dublin 1-25 Laois 0-10
Dublin collected their eighth Leinster title on the spin and their thirteenth in 14 seasons when they ultimately brushed aside the challenge of Laois before 41,728 sun-drenched fans in Croke Park.
Ciaran Kilkenny gave a Man of the Match performance scoring 1-4 from play. Dublin were strangely off colour in the first half, squandering easy chances including a penalty, and their full-back line looked less than assured, though rookie goalkeeper Evan Comerford scarcely put a foot wrong.
But they still led by six points at the break and completely dominated the second half, though substitute John Small was red-carded in the 54th minute.
So the All-Ireland champions advance directly to the Super 8s competition where their first match will be against newly crowned Ulster kingpins Donegal in Croke Park on the weekend of July 14-15.
It's a remarkable achievement for this bunch of Dublin players. It is interesting to note that when Dublin won six titles in a row between 1974 and 1979, their average winning margin was 5.5 points, whereas the winning margin on this run for the Dubs has been 10.5 points.
Dublin team manager Jim Gavin also deserves special commendation. This was the 15th significant trophy he has secured as Dublin senior boss - only the 2014 All-Ireland and last year's league title has escaped his grasp during his tenure.
While he still trails Brian Cody (35) and Mick O'Dwyer (27) in terms of trophies won as a manager, the fact that he has reached 15 in just just six seasons marks his achievement out as being particularly noteworthy.
Despite losing by 18 points, Laois, who played in Division 4 this season, acquitted themselves better than anticipated and will look forward to the fourth round draw in the qualifiers. They still have a decent chance of making the Super 8s via the backdoor.
As expected, Dublin captain and goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton missed his first championship match since 2004, with Evan Comerford - who replaced him off the bench against Longford – becoming only the sixth player to start for Dublin in goal in the last 50 years.
It looked like it would be normal service for Dublin when Brian Fenton won the throw-in, racing through before offloading to Con O'Callaghan, whose goal bound shot was saved by Graham Brody.
Once the contest settled down, Laois pulled 13 players behind the ball leaving just Donal Kingston and Evan O'Carroll up front. Dublin pressed up on Brody's kick-outs and when they lost the first three restarts, they seemed destined for a long, tortuous afternoon.
Worse still, Laois conceded a goal after only four minutes when Ciaran Kilkenny held off his inexperienced marker Finbar Crowley – who had replaced the injured Stephen Attride – to take a pass from Eric Lowdnes and drive the ball low past Brody.
Two minutes later Brody saved again from O'Callaghan as Dublin poured forward at every opportunity and a seventh minute free from Dean Rock left Dublin 1-1 to no score in front.
But gradually Laois clawed their way back into an entertaining contest. Laois won all but four of their next 14 kick-outs and this provided them with the launchpad for their revival.
The Kingston brothers, Paul and Donal respectively, were causing problems for their respective markers Jonny Cooper – who captained Dublin in the absence of Cluxton – and Philly McMahon.
Dublin failed to score between the 7th and 17th minute during which Laois tagged on four points – three from play - to level scores.
There was an unexpected lethargic feel to Dublin's forward play, though they were gifted every kick out by Laois. Only Ciaran Kilkenny – who was now being marked by Trevor Collins – was taking on the Laois defence and he restored their lead in the 17th minute.
But they continued to be woefully sloppy with their shooting and by half time had run up nine wides. Their worst miss came 15 minutes from the break when Laois full back Mark Timmons pulled back Niall Scully as he raced on to a popped pass from Kilkenny. But Paul Mannion's poorly struck penalty rolled left and wide of the upright.
Dean Rock did convert a free soon afterwards but Laois had a real chance to make a serious statement in the 26th minute when a pass from Evan O'Carroll – who had the measure of Mick Fitzsimons for periods – sent Alan Farrell racing clear but the wing forward opted to take his point when really he should have gone for broke.
Stung by coughing up that chance, Dublin upped the pace during the remainder of the half with James McCarthy leading the charge and they hit five unanswered points to lead at the break 1-8 to 0-5. The pick of bunch was a brilliant effort from O'Callaghan who attempted to chip the goalkeeper but the retreating Brody managed to tip his effort over the bar.
Jack McCaffrey replaced Lowndes at the break and made two huge plays in the third quarter. In the 38th minute Evan Comerford's miscued a short kick-out for the first time and Kingston's pass almost released O'Carroll but he was dispossessed by a ferocious shoulder from the Clontarf man.
Then six minutes later, McCaffrey raced unchallenged through the Laois rearguard but Brody – who retired injured in the 56th minute – brilliantly saved his effort and Colm Begley stopped the rebound
By then the game had slipped beyond Laois's reach despite their brave effort as Dublin had increased their advantage to nine points and had started to empty the bench with Cormac Costello announcing his season in the championship
Though Dublin completely dominated the second half, they did suffer a setback when John Small was red carded less than three minutes after replacing Michael Darragh Macauley. After pushing Evan O'Carroll over he followed up and appeared to strike him on the face.
The overall pattern of the second half was summed up by the fact that Dublin outscored Laois 0-16 to 0-5 and the winners didn't kick a wide in the period until the 72nd minute as they ran out 18 point winners, even though it was a somewhat below par performance – particularly in the first half.
Dublin: E Comerford; E Lowndes, P McMahon,M Fitzsimons, E Lowndes; J McCarthy, J Cooper, P Howard (0-1); B Fenton (0-2), M D Macauley; N Scully (0-1), C O'Callaghan (0-2), C Kilkenny (1-4); P Mannion (0-1), D Rock (0-8, 5f, 1 45)), P Andrews (0-2). Subs: J McCaffrey for Lowndes ht; C Costello (0-4) for Andrews 45m; J Small for Macauley 52m; P Flynn for O'Callaghan, D Daly for Mannion 61m, C McHugh for Rock 68m
Laois: G Brody; D Strong, M Timmons, G Dillon; F Crowley, C Begley, T Collins; J O'Loughlin, K Lillis (0-1); A Farrell (0-2), P Kingston, N Donoher; E O'Carroll (0-1), D Kingston (0-4, 2f), D O'Connor Subs: B Carroll for Donoher 48m; R Munnelly for Crowley 52m; E Keogh for Brody 55m, D Holland for Strong 58m; B Glynn for Farrell 64m; G Walsh (0-2) for P Kingston 66m
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry)