Dublin 1-13 Laois 0-11
John Small received a straight red card late in the first half but Dublin still managed to overcome a stiff examination from Laois to win their first O’Byrne Cup since 2017 at Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow.
Laois, competing in their first final in 15 years, were unable to make their numerical advantage count. Posing no goal threat, they were outscored 0-10 to 0-5 after Small’s dismissal.
In his victory speech captain Ciaran Kilkenny hailed the prevailing mood of positivity on a day in which the country reopened after a long period of restrictions due to the Covid pandemic. The sizeable attendance cheered those sentiments.
Though beaten, Laois were completing a fifth match in 15 days, the first of those a 15-point thumping from Wexford in Billy Sheehan’s first match as manager. They have reason to look ahead to the league next weekend with a reasonable degree of confidence.
Dublin had just six of the team that started last year’s championship defeat against Mayo, which ended a 45-game unbeaten run. Small, one of those, was sent off by referee Cormac Reilly after clashing with Evan O’Carroll off the ball approaching the 30th minute, the Laois player left on the floor and needing attention, before being hauled off for treatment.
Replays showed O’Carroll to be exceedingly fortunate not to follow Small off the field, raising his hansd and pushing out at the Dublin player before being hit. But Small’s reaction was needlessly petulant and left his side with much work to do.
The pair were also involved in an altercation in the 2018 Leinster final leading to another red card dismissal for the Ballymun defender. The incident added some badly needed fuel to the fire of what had been a low-heat affair up to the decision, delivered by Reilly, a late call-up for Anthony Nolan who had to withdraw due to a hamstring injury.
Level at that point, Dublin closed off the half with scores from Cormac Costello, a free, and Ross McGarry after a strong Brian Fenton run to lead 1-5 to 0-6 at half time. Costello, scorer of 2-5 against Louth, was less effective here, scoring just once from play. Laois did manage to get back level in the second half, but they never led Dublin, with four unanswered scores either side of the final water break effectively deciding the match.
The Midlanders, who had an excellent performance out of defender James Kelly, struggled early on and had their goal breached in the fifth minute. A daring run by Sean Bugler from deep caught them off guard, Bugler working an exchange of passes with Brian Fenton, a telling presence throughout, and then finding the field opening up. He struck confidently to the bottom left corner.
From the kick out Dublin won possession, swept forward and Harry Ladd punched over the bar. They might have had a second goal when Tom Lahiff got on the end of a move and had his goal attempt blocked by Laois goalkeeper Danny Bolger with some help from a defender.
Laois managed to settle and by the first water break they were level, 0-4 to 1-1, all their scores coming from frees, two off the boot of Mark Barry, the fourth by Sean Moore, taken off the right side, and a 45 from Bolger.
Fenton and Cameron McCormack offered Dublin huge reach for long kick-outs in the middle of the field but Dublin were fitful, hitting two good scores in a minute from Kilkenny and Aaron Byrne soon after the first water break, before Laois pegged the level with O’Carroll scoring their only point from play in the first half, after Dublin were turned over, and Moore landing another free.
After Small’s red card Dublin finished the half with the last two scores, Costello from a free and Ross McGarry finishing after Fenton’s strong run. It had them leading 1-3 to 0-6 at the interval.
O’Carroll and Barry had the O'Moore county level for a third time but Dublin hit four points in reply from McGarry, Lee Gannon, Costello and Byrne to move 1-9 to 0-8 up by the 57th minute.
Laois couldn’t close the gap any more than three points over the remainder, the Dubs finishing strongly with scores from Kilkenny, Fenton and Lahiff. They face Armagh at Croke Park in a Division 1 league opener on Saturday next. Laois travel to Ardee on Sunday to play Louth in Division 3.
Dublin: S Bugler 1-0; R McGarry, C Costello (1 f), A Byrne, C Kilkenny, B Fenton 0-2 each; H Ladd, L Gannon (m), T Lahiff 0-1 each.
Laois: M Barry 0-4 (0-3 fs); E O’Carroll 0-3; S Moore 0-2 (0-2 fs); D Bolger (45), G Walsh 0-1.
DUBLIN – M Shiel; L Gannon, D Byrne, E Murchan; T Lahiff, J Small, K Kennedy; B Fenton, C McCormack; R McGarry, C Kilkenny, S Bugler; C Costello, H Ladd, A Byrne.
Subs: N Scully for Ladd (ht); L O’Dell for McCormack (52); W Egan for McGarry (58); K McGinnis for Costello (69); R Shaw for Byrne (73).
LAOIS – D Bolger; J Kelly, T Collins, A Mohan; S O’Flynn, J O’Loughlin, C Fennessy; K Lillis, J Finn; B Byrne, E Lowry, C Murphy; M Barry, E O’Carroll, S Moore.
Subs: D O’Reilly for Murphy (49); D Kavanagh for O‘Flynn (54); G Walsh for Moore (57); B Daly for Finn (60); C Doyle for Fennessy & P Dunne for Lillil (68); D D Doyle for Byrne (69).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).
The 15-month campaign to overhaul the way the GAA’s multi-million-euro coaching budget is distributed has ended in failure. In a controversial decision, the GAA ruled that a motion seeking to have the funds distributed on a registered player model was out of order on technical grounds.