Monday 22 January 2018

Keaney sparks new spring fever

Dublin 2-18 Laois 1-11

Dublin full back Michael Carton, supported by Paul Schuttee and Conor Murphy, left, pulls down Laois full forward Neil Foyle. The referee awarded a penalty.
Dublin full back Michael Carton, supported by Paul Schuttee and Conor Murphy, left, pulls down Laois full forward Neil Foyle. The referee awarded a penalty.
Dwane Palmer, Laois, in action against Dublin's Ben Quinn
John A Delaney, Laois, pushes forward against Dublin's Niall McMorrow
Conal Keaney scores a first half goal for Dublin
Laois goalkeeper Eoin Reilly prepares to clear under pressure from Dublin's Niall McMorrow
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

Who said the Spring Series was over?

There may not be Jedward or any half-time entertainment but Dublin fans should still flock to Croker next Saturday night for a tasty early-season double-header.

Their hurlers’ 14-man victory over Laois in Portlaoise yesterday means they will provide an interesting curtain-raiser in the Walsh cup final ahead of the footballers’ big grudge match with Donegal.

An early-season crack at Galway in Croker Park should be particularly instructive for their new boss Ger Cunningham, even if the Cork legend was playing down its significance so early in the season.

“It’s very early days. It’s another good game to get at this time of the year in preparation for a very tough National League. We start against Tipp in two weeks’ time,” he stressed.

BONUS

But getting a run-out in HQ was, he agreed “a bonus, particularly for some of those guys we’re trying out.”

He will have to start without full-back Michael Carton, who got red-carded in the third quarter for an off-the-ball incident that clearly left him frustrated yet, even without him, Dublin had far too much craft and pace for a Laois side whose good early-season form dramatically deserted them.

The Dubs were six points up by half-time (1-9 to 0-6), and, to use the old joke, Laois were lucky to have six.

Within 12 minutes of the re-start the gap had increased to 11 points.

Just when the visitors looked like cantering over the horizon without having to move into top gear, in came Laois’ mercurial gunslinger Zane Keenan to finally shake his team-mates out of their torpor.

He had missed Laois’ victory over Wexford with a bad hand injury but, as ever, the minute Keenan arrived he had an impact.

His entry fortunately coincided with Neil Foyle earning a penalty off Carton and the Camross ace immediately made little of the new one-on-one rule by bouncing it well to beat goalkeeper Gary Maguire.

Laois hadn’t helped their own cause by shooting  eight wides before half-time, several of them from free-taker Stephen Maher, but Keenan’s accuracy from placed balls also solved that problem and gave momentum to all around him.

PJ Scully, Joe Campion and Willie Hyland were three who finally got stuck in as the home side rattled off 1-5 to 0-1 to haul the gap back to just four.

But that was as close as it got and an error by usually dependable Laois goalkeeper Eoin Reilly, who came off his line to pick up a ball close to the sideline but failed and let Eamonn Dillon round him, and saw the Dublin centre-forward gild the lily with their second goal in the 69th minute.

After the delight of beating Wexford for the first time in four years this was a worrying speed-bump for Cheddar Plunkett’s men.

Their next game will be their Division 1B opener against Offaly on Valentine’s Day and, if they want to build on the great progress that they made under Plunkett last season, they cannot afford to blow hot and cold.

They have lost key defender Brian Campion to retirement but have benefited from Keenan and Cahir Healy’s return, even if the latter is back commuting from England.

If they want to make the jump to Division 1A territory they are going to have to match the ability of men like Conal Keaney, whose awesome talent and versatility was underlined when Dublin were reduced to 14 men.

ROBUST

Paul Schutte shifted to full-back and Keaney, who had already scored 1-2 with that trademark combination of robust physicality and delicate touches, moved back to wing-back.

In the subsequent minutes he made a huge catch on his own goal-line and later scored a boomer from what Super Bowl commentators like to describe as ‘downtown.’

David Treacy bagged 0-9 (all frees) and they could afford to wait for almost an hour before introducing Danny Sutcliffe but Keaney was undoubtedly their man of the match.

Dublin may have just lost Tommy Dunne as team coach but Cunningham already has their touch looking very sharp and they’re playing a nice brand of hurling, mixing long and short with smart diagonal balls.

Peter Kelly impressed at centre-back, young Shane Barrett did well beside him, newcomer Ben Quinn did well in their rookie midfield and Eamonn Dillon shone at centre-forward.

But the jury remains out on some of their experiments, particularly Liam Rushe at full-forward.

“These games give us a chance to look at different things, to see can players be versatile and play in different positions,” Cunningham said.

“We just want to see if guys can adapt. This is what the Walsh Cup gives us, an opportunity to see how it goes, but nothing is set in stone yet.”

Galway, at home, in front of a big home crowd, will tell him a lot more.

Scorers – Dublin: D Treacy 0-9fs, C Keaney 1-3, E Dillon 1-2 (1f), P Kelly 0-2 (1f), C McBride, N McMorrow 0-1 each. Laois: Z Keenan 1-3 (1-0pen, 0-3fs), S Maher 0-2fs, J Purcell, W Hyland, T Fitzgerald, PJ Scully, N Foyle, M Whelan (f) 0-1 each.

Dublin – G Maguire; N Corcoran, M Carton, P Schutte; J McCaffrey, P Kelly, S Barrett; B Quinn, C McBride; C Keaney, E Dillon, M Schutte; N McMorrow, E Dillon, M Schutte; N McMorrow, L Rushe, D Treacy. Subs: R O’Carroll for McBride (h-t), C Murphy for Corcoran (inj, h-t), D Sutcliffe for McMorrow (56).

Laois – E Reilly; J Delaney, C Healy, C Dunne; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, J Campion; S Maher, D Palmer; J Purcell  T Fitzgerald, W Hyland; PJ Scully, N Foyle, B Conroy. Subs: Z Keenan for Palmer (h-t), J Walsh for Purcell (h-t), T Delaney for Maher (45), B Reddin for Conroy (62), C Stapleton for Fitzpatrick (69).

Ref – P Murphy (Carlow).

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