'I am getting a bit of credit but I don't want credit' - Eddie Brennan hails his Laois heroes
Laois 1-22 Dublin 0-23
So hurling's supposed problem child tore up the script in Portlaoise, flooring not just Dublin, but all our assumptions too about a group endlessly held back by careless use of timber and a liking for the night.
The story of Laois's journey to their first All-Ireland quarter-final since 1979 devoured all we thought we knew about them. For their first championship defeat of the Dubs in 14 seasons became such an essay in selflessness and controlled aggression, it left their manager, Eddie Brennan, smiling the smile of someone who has, essentially, been sitting on a secret.
"Their skill cannot be questioned," said the Kilkenny man, now contemplating a last-six tilt at Tipperary in Croke Park next Sunday that just about nobody imagined to be within their scope.
"Today, on top of that, we saw their spirit grow, something that has been happening all year. I am getting a little bit of credit and I don't want it. The players are the ones that crossed the line, that drove it on."
The hurling calendar is, of course, seeded with inequality.
Laois's obligation to play the game just a week after winning the Joe McDonagh Cup asked unreasonable things of them. It presented them not just with the challenge of physical replenishment, but a compulsion to recalibrate inevitably giddy minds.
Brennan is in for the long haul with these men, but the last week must have felt a bit like selling pension advice to a lottery-winning syndicate. One minute there's a trophy on a dressing-room table in Croke Park, the next you're back peddling the virtues of discipline and self-sacrifice.
Quite how Brennan and his backroom team achieved it, only they truly know. As coach Niall Corcoran put it, the players were "blowing out a lot of black smoke" at training last Tuesday. For all that, three days later, Brennan was so exercised by the energy and focus of their final session, he rang Corcoran on the way home. "Just said to him, I think we have them in the right place," Brennan told him.
That place, it transpired, was somewhere between defiant and possessed. Because the intensity they brought to this contest betrayed zero evidence of a dressing-room still celebrating that win over Westmeath last Monday night.
The Laois project was regarded as a brutally awkward one for Brennan to take on when he made the commitment last autumn. With just eight senior clubs to pick from, there was the complicating issue of a sulphurous county final that left one of their best players, Ross King, with serious facial injuries.
King was one of 16 men who made themselves unavailable on Brennan's initial invitation and it would be April before he found the appetite to return, by which time - in Brennan's estimate - as many as 22 players they "initially wanted or had on board" were lost to Laois.
Yet, out of that discouragement, somehow, grew this, the county's greatest hurling day in decades.
As Brennan put it: "It was said initially when I came up here that there was a lot of issues and stuff like that, but I have to say none of them were brought into our dressing-room. Every single one of those players - to a man - had each others' backs."
How it showed.
If Dublin knew they were facing a fiercely united team here, they still seemed discomfited by Laois's early intensity. With John Lennon hurling as sweeper and Charles Dwyer pulling deep, the middle third was contested furiously, only those with minds open to the probability of pain likely to survive.
And most of those men were wearing Laois jerseys, Brennan's men deserving the ninth-minute goal, Willie Dunphy somehow retrieving a ball that looked to be drifting aimlessly wide at the Abbeyleix end before setting up namesake, Aaron, who batted past a helpless Alan Nolan.
Laois led 1-7 to 0-4 after 19 minutes before a pocket of Dublin points from Ronan Hayes (two) and Eamonn Dillon brought the Dubs back to just a goal adrift and, in most minds, perfectly poised to take over.
But a hallmark of Brennan's Laois has been their willingness to hurl their way out through trouble. In other words, to trust their ability to transition the sliotar through defensive lines rather than revert to hit-and- hope. This characteristic was written all over King's 28th-minute point, a virtual work-of-art score from one end of O'Moore Park to the other.
Maybe a minute after that score, Dillon went torquing in towards Enda Rowland's goal only to be denied brilliantly and bravely by the Laois goalkeeper at his near post. It was a vital intervention quickly followed by a shell-burst of Laois points from Mark Kavanagh, Jack Kelly and Dwyer that pushed Laois 1-12 to 0-8 ahead approaching half-time.
Danny Sutcliffe and Conal Keaney did rein the margin back to five before the interval, but Laois's energy was still pitched at a higher temperature than that of their opponents.
Kavanagh's free-taking had been unerring in that half, but Dublin quickly found traction after the interval, scoring three unanswered points to close the margin to two. They could, maybe should, even have been level, the otherwise impeccable Oisin O'Rorke missing two scoreable frees.
For all that, there was always a sense that Laois would, eventually, just run out of legs. Especially so with 16 minutes remaining when an O'Rorke free drew Dublin level for the first time in three-quarters of an hour. By now, Rowland had pulled off another crucial save too, denying Sutcliffe in the 48th minute with a spectacular dive to his right.
But just when Laois had every invitation towards the refuge of self-pity, they found it within themselves - essentially - to go again.
The marvellous Willie Dunphy nailed a point from the toes of the stand; Kavanagh and Aaron Dunphy added two more. And there and then Dublin began to look like a team feeling a cold breath on their necks.
Mattie Kenny's men did not actually register a score from play over the closing 17 minutes, meaning it would have been a travesty had Sean Moran's 74th-minute 20-metre free not been deflected over Rowland's crossbar. Crucially, two of Laois's last four scores came from frees, converted by their goalkeeper from somewhere close to the M7.
Kenny, to be fair, did not sidestep the truth of a Dublin performance pitched at many levels below what they aspire to.
"There's an element of responsibility between the players and the management today," said the Dublin manager.
"And that was an unacceptable performance from our group. And we know that. The problem is it's too f*****g late now! Laois put up great fight there. They had great hunger. But Dublin weren't at the required level today. We've nobody to blame for that, only ourselves."
SCORERS - Laois: M Kavanagh 0-9 (0-7f, 0-1 '65); A Dunphy 1-2; W Dunphy 0-4; C Dwyer, E Rowland (2f) 0-2 each; J Kelly, P Purcell and R King 0-1 each. Dublin: O O'Rorke 0-12 (10f, 1 '65); C Boland 0-3; R Hayes and D Sutcliffe 0-2 each; S Moran, E Dillon, C Keaney and P Ryan (f) 0-1 each.
LAOIS - E Rowland 9; L Cleere 8, M Whelan 7, J Phelan 8; J Kelly 8, R Mullaney 8, P Delaney 7; J Lennon 7, P Purcell 8; A Dunphy 8, M Kavanagh 8, E Lyons 8; W Dunphy 9, C Dwyer 8, R King 7. Subs: E Killeen 7 for Delaney (53), C Phelan 7 for Kelly (58), S Bergin for King (63), E Gaughan for Kavanagh (70).
DUBLIN - A Nolan 7; P Smyth 8, S Barrett 6, D O'Connell 7; C Crummey 7, S Moran 7, J Madden 7; S Treacy 6, T Connolly 6; C Keaney 6, D Sutcliffe 7, C Boland 8; O O'Rorke 8, R Hayes 7, E Dillon 6. Subs: F Whiteley 6 for Treacy (53), P Ryan 6 for Keaney (57), J Hetherton for Boland (65).
Ref - A Kelly (Galway)