Early goals get job done but Dubs switch off
Dubiln 2-21 Laois 2-10
Afterwards Mick Lillis wore the look of a man who’d had the roof ripped off the house by a storm but was thankful that everything else was left intact.
How you square an 11-point defeat to Dublin in a Leinster quarter-final depends on your expectation.
The Laois manager had spoken of facing a “monster” after his side’s win over Wicklow in the last round, of being “terrified”.
So when the tempest had passed and Lillis assessed the damage, maybe it didn’t seem too bad.
An 11-point defeat did, after all, match the margin of their previous loss to Dublin in the corresponding game two years ago. Only Meath, in the 2013 Leinster final which they lost by seven points, have come closer in the 10 Leinster Championship matches that Jim Gavin has overseen as Dublin manager.
When the bookies were calling it a 14-point game and the average winning margin of Dublin’s previous nine Leinster matches is 15-and-a-half points, a Laois team that lost John O’Loughlin to a red card 27 minutes in for striking Michael Darragh Macauley off the ball can draw some optimism from the evening.
Dublin’s first championship game outside Croke Park for 10 years didn’t feel a whole lot different from so many they have played in the intervening period in headquarters, especially in Leinster, certainly in the opening half.
They bolted from the traps like lightning, Brian Fenton claiming the throw-in and planting a pass to the endline where Dean Rock got control and somehow engineered himself inside the cover to squeeze a shot past Graham Brody within 13 seconds.
Dublin’s capacity to quickly follow up one goal with another manifested just four minutes later.
Laois might have thought they had settled when Gary Walsh held off Davy Byrne for their first score but from the kick-out Stephen Cluxton hit an unmarked James McCarthy 60 metres down field and when the gazelle-like Ballymun man went spinning away into space there is no more fearsome sight for opponents in football these days.
Diarmuid Connolly got the angle of his support run right, McCarthy played him in and Brody and was picking the ball out of his net for a second time, a little over 10 seconds after Cluxton had restarted. Devastating.
The five-minute mark had still not been passed and already the job was done. The evening shadows were lengthening.
Paul Flynn didn’t start because of “tightness”, according to Gavin, but Ciaran Kilkenny pulled the strings on that wing while Connolly attacked space zealously on the other wing.
Whipped off early in the league final against Kerry, Connolly looked like a player eager to correct that lacklustre display at the first available opportunity and he was as busy as he has been, always looking for openings. Inside Dean Rock had one of his best Dublin games both from a creating and finishing perspective.
Dublin were industrious and smart in so much of what they did in that opening period and on three different occasions led in the opening period led by nine points.
O’Loughlin had been arguably the best Laois player up to his dismissal, a decision he couldn’t argue with irrespective of what led to it. His departure gave Laois an even greater sense of foreboding.
Macauley went off with a blood injury and Dublin pressed on to lead by 2-12 to 0-7 at the break.
But they failed to build on that 11-point lead over the next 35 minutes and some 30 minutes after O’Loughlin’s red card Laois had actually cut the deficit to six, 2-14 to 2-8, when substitute Ross Munnelly snatched a point after Donie Kingston’s clever breakdown.
Kingston grew into the game as it progressed, his height and strength really appearing to cause Dublin problems in the same way that Peter Kelleher had in Dublin’s league match against Cork in March.
Collectively the Dublin full-back line looked uncomfortable. Philly McMahon looks to be playing to a different script these days and played far too much of his football in the other half of the field while Jonny Cooper’s discipline continues to be borderline. His foul on Damien O’Connor for the Laois penalty, which Paul Cahillane finished clinically, merited a yellow but how close was it to a black card that would potentially have ruled him out for their next match?
Byrne also struggled for one of the goals and the manner in which O’Connor and Stephen Attride, two defenders, cut through in that second half will be a cause for some concern as Gavin acknowledged.
“The players themselves will not be happy with that second-half performance. It certainly gives us a lot to reflect upon.
“We understand that just would not be good enough in our next game. That gives us a bit of focus for the coming weeks,” he said.
Defensive responsibility is collective with Dublin when it comes to tackling players like Kingston and their track record has been good, even in Rory O’Carroll’s absence as last year’s drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo illustrated. But O’Carroll’s natural defensive instincts are perhaps greater than any other Dublin player and his absence was felt here.
That said, it was inevitable that Dublin couldn’t sustain the flawless football they played early on and the certainty of victory impinged on their performance. Connolly and Rock kept pressing at the other end as Eoghan O’Gara made a welcome championship return off the bench and the promising Con O’Callaghan made his debut as he scored Dublin’s final point.
Psychologically they tuned out at some stage in the second half though Laois did thrive when their own shackles loosened and they just went for it, drawing the second half 2-3 to 0-9 with Graham Brody’s penalty save from Diarmuid Connolly on 69 minutes after O’Callaghan was fouled important to them.
Scorers – Dublin: D Rock 1-10 (6f), D Connolly 1-4, C Kilkenny 0-4, D Byrne, C O’Callaghan, K McManamon, D Byrne all 0-1 each. Laois: P Cahillane 1-2 (1-0 pen, 2f), S Attride 1-0, D Kingston 0-2 (1f), D O’Connor, J O’Loughlin, G Walsh, R Munnelly, K Meaney, D Strong all 0-1 each.
Dublin – S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 6, J Cooper 7, D Byrne 6; J McCarthy 8, C O’Sullivan 7, J Small 6; B Fenton 7, MD Macauley 7; C Kilkenny 9, K McManamon 6, D Connolly 9; P Mannion 6, D Rock 9, B Brogan 5. Subs: M Fitzsimons 7 for McMahon (44), C Costello 5 for Brogan (50), C O’Callaghan 7 for Mannion (55), D Daly for O’Sullivan (58), E O’Gara for Rock (62), E Lowndes (62) for Cooper (62).
Laois – G Brody 8; M Timmons 7, P Cotter 6, S Attride 7; D O’Connor 8, D Strong 7, C Begley 5; C Meredith 6, B Quigley 5; P Cahillane 6, J O’Loughlin 6, G Dillon 6; E O’Carroll 5, D Kingston 8, G Walsh 5. Subs: K Meaney 7 for O’Carroll (29), N Donoher 5 for Walsh (h-t), R Munnelly 6 for Dillon, A Farrell for Cahillane (62), G Hanrahan for Cotter (64), R O’Connor for Meredith (65).
Ref – C Branagan (Down)