WE CAME, we saw, we got what we expected. But what did we actually learn? Six weeks ago Dublin woke up to the painful realisation of surrendering an eight-point advantage in a league final – and the head full of questions that come with that.
This time Dublin wake up with an eight-point victory, and given the way they appeared to actually play down the clock, there may be some connection there somewhere. That’s not saying there isn’t the realisation of a different sort.
Laois had tested them, alright, but hardly as thoroughly or truly as some teams waiting down the line will – starting no doubt with Kildare in the Leinster semi-final, back in Croke Park on June 26th. There were times here when Dublin had it all their own way, and other times when they seemed to lose their way, and against more consistent opposition that might well have seen them undone.
In the end we didn’t really learn anything we didn’t already know. Dublin boast some sweet-footed forwards, with Alan Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly in the thick of it this time, and Bernard Brogan also showing up as usual despite the very close attention of Cahir Healy. Bryan Cullen suddenly has a ferocious appetite for football again and Dublin’s calm and efficient defence can handle the simple stuff very well.
What all those in the combined attendance of 41,786 were denied was any great excitement – but at least the consolation that Dublin weren’t completely out of sight before half-time. Eoin Culliton made two superb saves from Connolly, in the fourth and fifth minutes, during Dublin’s early onslaught on the Laois goal, and if one of those had gone in then things could have gone very lop-sided. Still Dublin were four points clear after 10 minutes and playing head and shoulders above Laois.
Justin McNulty made several adjustments to his team, Pádraig McMahon replacing MJ Tierney but starting as an extra defender – while the rest of the changes were positional, Kevin Meaney’s switching to midfield the most notable.
If the plan was to survive Dublin’s early onslaught then this largely worked, although it was 17 minutes before Ross Munnelly opened the Laois scoring from a free, and that hardly did their confidence any good.
Just when Laois gained some possession and territory in the first half – with Daithí Carroll hitting a nice point – Connolly pounced for the only goal of the game, on 23 minutes, and it was partly self-inflicted by Laois. A poor kick-out was caught by Kevin McManamon, passed off to Alan Brogan, who then set up Connolly – and this time his deft tap went between Culliton’s legs. Stephen Cluxton then landed his second 45 of the half to leave Dublin 1-7 to 0-5 in front at the intermission.
The Laois two-man full forward line of Munnelly and Carroll was hardly ruffling the Dublin defence, with Rory O’Carroll showing no signs of his lay-off during the league. Donie Kingston was thus introduced and straightaway added a little more substance, as Laois hit three points in quick succession to narrow the gap to two points – 1-7 to 0-8.
At that point Dublin’s major problem was winning their own kick-outs: they’d only win one of their first eight kick-outs of the second half, and a large part of the guilt there obviously rested with midfield. Barry Cahill was replaced by Denis Bastick on 44 minutes, and, later, Michael Dara Macauley was called ashore too, replaced with four minutes of normal time remaining by Ross McConnell. Chances are Pat Gilroy would rather have McConnell’s bulk in there for the Kildare challenge, but given his long lay-off he may still be short the match fitness.
Fortunately for Dublin, their shortcomings around midfield weren’t fully punished by an ultimately limited Laois team. Whatever hopes Laois may have had after clawing it back to two points soon disappeared as Dublin hit the next seven points without reply, the pick of which came from Alan Brogan and Connolly. Meanwhile Eoghan O’Gara marked his introduction and return from suspension by setting up a score for each of the Brogan brothers.
Going that 23 minutes without a score proved fatal for Laois, and it was 62 minutes before substitute Gary Kavanagh reignited their scoring threat. That was, of course, far too little too late. They needed goals, and while Carroll had come close on one occasion (and sustained a bad ankle injury in the process) there was never anything much to trouble Cluxton.
Instead, Connolly had the chance for a second goal at the other end, shortly before time, and this one was flicked out by Culliton without him really realising it.
That probably was the big positive for Dublin, that they continue to create goal chances, and it was definitely a better start to their championship compared to against Wexford this time last year.
Gilroy emptied his bench with the usual suspects, including Tomás Quinn and Declan Lally, although Quinn didn’t do himself any favours by hitting two late wides. But they were completely untroubled over the final quarter and could afford to jog over the finish line like a marathon runner several minutes clear of his nearest rival.
So did any of this tell you anything you didn’t already know?
DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton (0-3, 45s); 3 R O’Carroll, 2 P McMahon, 4 M Fitzsimons; 5 J McCarthy, 6 G Brennan, 7 K Nolan; 8 MD Macauley, 9 B Cahill; 10 P Flynn, 11 K McManamon, 12 B Cullen (0-1); 13 A Brogan (0-3), 14 D Connolly (1-3), 15 B Brogan (0-5, 0-2 frees). Subs: 21 D Bastick for Cahill (44 mins), 25 E O’Gara for McManamon (48 mins), 26 T Quinn (0-1, free) for B Brogan (64 mins), 22 R McConnell for Macauley (66 mins), 24 D Lally for Cullen (69 mins). Yellow cards: K McManamon (16 mins), G Brennan (45 mins).
LAOIS: 1 E Culliton; 27 P McMahon (0-2), 4 M Timmons, 2 C Healy; 6 S Julian, 7 P O’Leary, 5 D Strong; 3 K Meaney, 9 B Quigley; 8 C Begley (0-1), 11 J O’Loughlin, 12 N Danaher; 13 R Munnelly (0-4, 0-2 frees), 10 D Carroll (0-2), 14 B Sheehan. Subs: 25 D Kingston for Sheehan (half time), 18 K Lillis for O’Loughlin (52 mins), 26 G Kavanagh (0-2) for Carroll (54 mins), 17 C Boyle for Timmons (61 mins).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).
- Irish Times