Tuesday 20 March 2018

Dublin limp on as Laois look to keep Cheddar

Dublin 4-17 Laois 0-19 All-Ireland SHC Qualifier Rd 1

Dublin’s Cian O’Callaghan and Laois’s Stephen Maher wrestle for possession
during Saturday’s clash in O’Moore Park, Portlaois
Dublin’s Cian O’Callaghan and Laois’s Stephen Maher wrestle for possession during Saturday’s clash in O’Moore Park, Portlaois
David Kelly

David Kelly

Another hurling insurgency interrupted in the midlands.

Laois bowed out on home turf and at the final whistle they emerged on to the O'Moore sward in their droves, a loyal gaggle of young devotees whizzing around their talismanic leader Cheddar Plunkett as if merely wafting their hurls in his direction might instil within them magical powers.

For all his anarchic alchemy, a thunderous second-quarter insurrection from his occasionally inspired platoon ultimately ebbed away as their summer scream petered out into a whisper.

Two early Mark Schutte goals, the first after merely 29 seconds, had dimmed their fire, despite raucous responses from Cha Dwyer and Willie Hyland against a Dublin side whose confidence remains startlingly brittle

True, Laois had drawn level later in the piece but Dublin were up by five when they departed for the half-time oranges and with the wind to come behind their backs; the lead would oscillate thereafter but never too wildly.

Restored, belatedly, to their positions of comfort, Liam Rushe and Conal Keaney dominated their territories at either end of the field amongst the wholesale changes made since the Tullamore implosion against Galway.

Former Dublin manager Anthony Daly reckoned the alterations were a "no-brainer", which makes one ponder what description the Clare man might have pinned upon the fact that they were ever moved in the first place.

"We tried Rushie and we tried Keaney in different positions," said current boss Ger Cunningham, who hinted that Peter Kelly may not make it next week either.

Rushe, given the huge Laois puck-outs with the first-half wind, effectively deputised in the house.

"These guys can play a number of different positions, I've said it all year. Keaney can do that. He offers us something different. He's probably a natural forward," added Cunningham.

However, while some problems were solved, others remain intractable.

Despite a well-struck four points from Eamon Dillon, the half-forward line lacked presence and Danny Sutcliffe's alarming dip in form is strange; the surprise was that Dublin pilfered an inordinate amount of foreign currency - four goals is a veritable feast for their supporters to witness.

The green flags dictated the game, Schutte's fine burst and subsequent batted double within the first six minutes doing unto Brian Stapleton what Galway's Cathal Mannion had done unto his brother last month.


Then, as Laois battled back with an aggressive intensity that Dublin worryingly couldn't match, Keaney, having had a goal disallowed for holding his marker's hurl, was returned an early favour when Schutte set him up for a facile 32nd-minute finish.

If their goal tally seemed to render them prolific, their wides total will disabuse one of such an airy notion; they hit as many shots awry as raised flags - 21 - and at least six of that number in the second half, with the breeze, were under no pressure.

And, even if Rushe held firm to negate the Laois goal threat at the other end, and hence any chance they had of victory, Dublin's exhaustive movement of the ball from the back caused them endless difficulties.

At least five times in the first half, the tactic of short puck-outs and tortuously slow build-up cost them the turnovers and the raising of a white flag; it was maddening stuff at times.

That they didn't have to scale the height to achieve victory reflects the fact that Laois themselves weren't able to hit their own peaks often enough; an ugly quarter of scoreless hurling in the second half seemed to more accurately represent these sides' status.

"It was nice to get that sort of start," said Cunningham. "Especially against the wind, it gave us a bit of a cushion that we were able to stay in command.

"But we had a lot of wides. We need to work on our shooting."

They will need better the next day; they just avoid Cork but if they have to travel, either of the remaining Munster duo will account for their championship hopes.

"It's going to be a big step up," added Cunningham.

And what of Laois? Hurling needs them and men like Plunkett to thrive, not merely survive; some of his men may retire now but one hopes that he doesn't walk away.

As he clutched the distraught Stapleton after the final whistle, one sensed that Laois hurling - and the sport in general - needs him. But do they know how much?

"Those decisions are never made after a match like this," he said of his own future, before delivering a passionate and hopefully not valedictory call to arms about that of the game.

"What is the objective here? Is the objective for the next 40 years to have an All-Ireland championship where only three counties can win it? Because we've had that for the last 40 years.

"If that's what they want, let them stand up and be honest and say it. And we'll all go away and do something else".

Scorers - Dublin: M Schutte 2-1, C Keaney 1-3, P Ryan 0-5 (4f), E Dillon 0-4, D O'Callaghan 1-0, S Barrett, J McCaffrey, R O'Dwyer, D Plunkett 0-1 each. Laois: Z Keenan 0-6 (5f), W Hyland 0-4, C Dwyer 0-3, J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, T Delaney, S Maher, J Campion, N Foyle 0-1 each.

Dublin - G Maguire; N Corcoran, C O'Callaghan, P Schutte; C Crummey, L Rushe, S Barrett; J McCaffrey, R O'Dwyer; C Boland, E Dillon, D Sutcliffe; M Schutte, C Keaney, P Ryan. Subs: S Durkin for Barrett (52), D O'Callaghan for Boland (60), D Treacy for Ryan (68), D Plunkett for Sutcliffe (70).

Laois - E Reilly; D Palmer, C Healy, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, T Delaney; P Whelan, P Purcell; S Maher, Z Keenan, C Dwyer; T Fitzgerald, W Hyland, J Campion. Subs: J Delaney for Stapleton (35), N Foyle for Fitzgerald (43), J Walsh for Purcell (44), PJ Scully for Whelan (47), B Conroy for Maher (67).

ref - J Ryan (Tipperary).



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