Dublin 0-25 Laois 0-16
When a team wins a Leinster SHC quarter-final by nine points you don’t expect to hear their manager announce earthily that they’ll need to find more “balls and stomach” if they’re to trouble Kilkenny in two weeks time.
But the statistics spoke volumes. Laois hit a whopping 17 wides: eight when they were completely dominating possession in the first-half and then, fatally, four in as many minutes immediately after half-time when they had only trailed by two.
Yes, Dublin scored 0-23 from play, seven of the total from their two midfielders.
But they had a spare man for the last 25 minutes and there was still only four points between the sides with 10 minutes left.
They got even more chances to practise their long-range shooting after Laois were reduced to just 13 players in the dying stages, when substitute Colin Delaney replicated captainBrian Campion‘s error of getting a second yellow card.
All week the word in Laois was that they were going to give last year’s Leinster finalists a serious rattle and they didn’t disappoint.
Even in the face of their maddening profligacy, manager Niall Rigney stood by his young side, declaring himself immensely proud of their progress and effort. Had they taken their chances yesterday, they certainly could have caused a major shock.
But one thing Rigney certainly wasn’t happy about was Campion’s second yellow card in the 45th minute, which was the game’s turning point.
“Colin Delaney definitely should have gone, but not Brian Campion,” he fumed quietly.
“It was a frontal chest tackle; there’s nothing wrong with that, no way was that a sending off; it wasn’t even a yellow card.”
But even as Rigney stressed how far his side have come in the last two years — despite, he noted, Croke Park‘s efforts to shunt them off into the Christy Ring lay-by — he had to concede that his players took far too many wild “snap shots”.
And it was Daly who looked the more aggrieved afterwards and he wasn’t afraid to speak plainly when he was asked what his side would need to find to take on hurling’s most savage and successful felines next.
“Balls and stomach, first and foremost!” said Daly.
“Balls and stomach and heart and (to) be willing to get in and hurt,” he added, his eyes blazing. “We didn’t do enough of that. Sure we were cleaned in the air! What will (Tommy) Walsh and (JJ) Delaney do to us?
“More relieved than encouraged,” Daly admitted. “A nine-point win for us is no reflection on the play.”
But Conor Dunne and James Walsh also disrupted Dublin’s vaunted midfield and, worryingly, the O’Moores also out-hunted them in many of the tight exchanges, forcing Daly to constantly re-shuffle his forwards.
Pulling Rushe out to centre-forward and throwing Simon Lambert back inside worked andJohnny McCaffrey certainly got into the game in the second half, but Dublin fumbled far too much and certainly didn’t look as touch-sharp as they were this time last year.
John Brophy was their top scorer from play, but two of their usual forward heroes, Tommy Fitzgerald (0-1) and Joe Fitzpatrick, were kept particularly quiet by the Dublin full-back line, who will be sweating on the fitness of Tomas Brady, who pulled up with a hamstring injury in the late stages.
The free count — 16-6 to Laois — was as imbalanced as the wide count, which gives Dublin something else to work on.
However, some big calls against them balanced things out and provided some talking points, not least Campion’s dismissal.
Just before half-time, when the sides were level for a seventh time, Keenan seemed to be harshly whistled up when in possession.
From the resulting free, Shane Durkin fired over a great point and then a brilliant sideline cut from McCrabbe and a point from the same player gave them their first substantial lead (three points).
James Walsh pulled one back to leave it 0-10 to 0-8 at the break and immediately on the re-start, the difference between the sides was crystalised when Laois shot two wides in a minute before Simon Lambert belted over a point from over half-way.
That directness and ability to score, especially from distance, was all that separated them and for Laois, who showed enough to demonstrate that there’s no reason they can’t be a serious force in the qualifiers, this will certainly be one that got away.
Dublin may have stayed standing on this banana-skin, but they will have to radically improve if they’re to have any chance against four-in-a-row champions Kilkenny.
“They haven’t been beaten in five years and we have the first shot at it anyway but unless we can seriously alter that in two weeks we’ll be bet out the (Croke Park) gate,” Daly conceded.
Scorers — Dublin: A McCrabbe 0-5 (0-1f, 0-1s’line), L Rushe, S Durkin 0-4 each, J McCaffrey,S Lambert, P Kelly 0-3 each, P Ryan 0-2, L Ryan 0-1. Laois: W Hyland 0-6 (0-3f), J Brophy 0-3, Z Keenan 0-2, J Walsh, T Fitzgerald, C Delaney, J Purcell 0-1 each, M Whelan 0-1f.
DUBLIN — G Maguire 8; N Corcoran 7, T Brady 8, O Gough 7; S Hiney (Capt) 6, J Boland 6,M O’Brien 7; J McCaffrey 7, S Durkin 7; S Lambert 7, P Kelly 7, P Ryan 6; D O’Callaghan 5, L Rushe 8, A McCrabbe 7. Subs: K Flynn 5 for O’Callaghan (24), L Ryan 6 for Flynn (52), P Carton 6 for P Ryan (56), S Ryan for Brady (inj, 66), R Trainor for Gough (68).
LAOIS — E Reilly 7; J Delaney 8, D Maher 7, C Healy 7; B Campion (Capt) 6, M Whelan 8, M McEvoy 8; C Dunne 7, J Walsh 7, J Fitzpatrick 5, Z Keenan 7, W Hyland 7; T Fitzgerald 6, N Foyle 5, J Brophy 7. Subs : C Delaney 7 for Foyle (46), J Purcell 7 for Fitzpatrick (48).
Ref — C McAllister (Cork).
– Cliona Foley