Laois left in blue Hayes as resurgent Dubs book Tipperary date
Dublin 3-23 Laois 0-17 - Allianz HL Div 1B
Pat Gilroy loves it when a plan starts coming together. Even if it has taken six weeks to lift the pall of pessimism that followed Dublin's opening 'fright-night' against Offaly back in late January.
The Sky Blue hurlers travelled to Portlaoise yesterday with several missions in mind, but one above all others: put Laois to the sword early, and thereby banish the threat of a Division 1B relegation play-off.
Seventy mostly impressive minutes later, Gilroy could reflect on a job well done. The Dubs securing a Division 1 home quarter-final date with Tipperary next weekend; in the process they condemned Laois to the play-off gods in Antrim.
"Today was an important game for us," Gilroy reflected. "We really needed to get a big performance. We got a massive amount of work out of the team today, and I think we really built from the performance the last day (against Galway)."
While the 15-point margin was manna from heaven for a team that had earlier suffered double-digit defeats to Offaly and Limerick, Dublin were equally thrilled by the manner of its achievement.
The collective work ethic beloved of Gilroy could be spied in several cameos, at a sparsely attended O'Moore Park. The manager was happier still to witness Dublin's aerial dominance at both ends of the pitch - and especially their capacity to make the ball stick up front.
Two forwards capitalised more than anyone: the increasingly familiar name of Donal Burke top-scored with 0-11 (four from play) but even he played second fiddle to Ronan Hayes.
Making just his second League start, the 2016 minor graduate flourished as creator and executioner.
Two clinically dispatched goals in the 63rd and 66th minutes crowned his man-of-the-match performance, bringing his personal haul to 2-4. To that you can add 1-3 in first half assists, his clever stickwork in the right corner creating the opening for Ryan O'Dwyer to nail Dublin's opening goal in the 19th minute.
For Gilroy's evolving team, the bar will now rise at a precipitous rate and they are set to host Tipp, the Division 1A table-toppers, without the injured Liam Rushe. Faced by a fresh breeze, Laois's first half efforts bordered on the abysmal at times as they fell to a 1-15 to 0-6 interval deficit.
Manager Eamonn Kelly lamented a succession of squandered frees in both halves, admitting: "You can't get away with that against a good side."
Sub PJ Scully took over the frees and, after a bad opening miss, regained his nerve and finished as their top scorer with 0-6, with two from play. But it was all a forlorn game of catch-up, and Hayes crowned a memorable day with a powerful ground stroke for his first goal, then a sharp swivel to create the space for his second.
Looking ahead to Antrim, Kelly admitted Laois had their "backs to the wall" but he still reckoned this was an improvement on their previous defeat to Offaly.
"We set up a certain way and it didn't work. By the time we changed it they had gone too far ahead. I have to take the blame for that," he said.
SCORERS - Dublin: D Burke 0-11 (6f, 1 '65'), R Hayes 2-4, R O'Dwyer 1-1, F Mac Gib 0-2, C Keaney, D Sutcliffe, J McCaffrey, P Ryan, C McBride 0-1 each. Laois: PJ Scully 0-6 (4f), C Dwyer, R King (2f) 0-3 each, N Foyle 0-2, E Rowland (f), B Conroy, P Purcell 0-1 each.
Dublin - A Nolan 7; P Smyth 8, B O'Carroll 6, E O'Donnell 8; S Barrett 6, C Crummey 7, J McCaffrey 7; C Costello 6, F Mac Gib 7; D Burke 8, C Keaney 6, D Sutcliffe 7; R Hayes 9, R O'Dwyer 7, P Winters 5. Subs: J Madden 7 for Barrett (inj 24), C O'Sullivan 6 for O'Dwyer (48), P Ryan 7 for Winters (58), R McBride for Keaney (63), C McBride for Costello (67).
Laois - E Rowland 6; L Cleere 5, L Bergin 7, J Phelan 5; P Lawlor 6, M Whelan 7, E Killeen 5; P Purcell 6, J Ryan 6; B Conroy 6, C Dwyer 7, W Dunphy 5; R King 6, N Foyle 6, M Kavanagh 5. Subs: C Stapleton 6 for Cleere (21), PJ Scully 7 for Kavanagh (34), C Taylor 6 for Killeen (34), E Lyons for Purcell (70), C Phelan for J Phelan (70).
Ref - P Murphy (Carlow).