NOT for the first time, Dublin footballers gained inspiration from their goal-scoring expertise in Croke Park yesterday.
Whether or not they came from slack marking, as losing manager Liam Kearns maintained was the case for two of the strikes, they ensured a victory that had been well sign-posted. The bonus for Paul Caffrey and his highly motivated team was the county’s first three-in-a-row in 13 years and it was well deserved.
Unfortunately for the neutrals, it was achieved in a game which provided the best entertainment in a first half notable for the reason Laois made the early running with a 7th minute goal. The second half, delightful for Dubs fans in the sense that the goal from Alan Brogan in the 41st minute more or less copperfastened their victory, was to degenerate into a sloppy contest. Dublin were never going to lose control but plucky Laois put in a supreme effort and were out of luck with two goal chances.
To the credit of the Laois players and their management team, they quickly settled into their stride, helped by a reasonably strong wind.
And while Mark Vaughan had kicked the opening score after less than two minutes, they were to hold the lead for 20 minutes from the time Ross Munnelly put the ball in the net after ‘keeper Stephen Cluxton had half-blocked a shot from Beano McDonald.
Conceding a goal so early wasn’t so much a disaster for the favourites as a worry for Caffrey in the way his inexperienced full-back Ross McConnell was exposed. Kearns came up with the strategy of withdrawing right half-forward Peter O’Leary and using right half-back Pauric McMahon as a sweeper role and it was to prove quite effective until Dublin responded with Brian Cullen’s move into the half-forward line.
However, what was most impressive about Laois’ early play was the confidence with which they moved the ball quickly and accurately from the back of their defence and picked off some good scores. Interestingly, one came from O’Leary (operating at left half-back) and it was a long ball from the other wing-back, Brian McCormack (quite influential), which set up the goal chance. As well as that, they were to benefit considerably from the free-taking of newcomer Michael Tierney.
They were in front 1-4 to 0-3 before Dublin began a gradual comeback which was initiated from the back by excellent defending from David Henry and Barry Cahill. In time, it would extend into a full-blown recovery, to which Ciaran Whelan at midfield, Jason Sherlock (through his clever link play from centre-forward) and Mark Vaughan would make especially significant contributions. Likewise Alan Brogan exerted a strong influence once he came to terms with the terrier-like covering of Joe Higgins and won some important frees.
Vaughan, who has been a huge success through the course of this campaign, was almost unerring in his kicking from frees on the left and was also to be rewarded with the team’s first goal.
The margin was down to a single point by the 25th minute, which was proof of Dublin’s improved play, with Bernard Brogan very lively on the left flank of the attack and involved in a lot of moves. So too was Conal Keaney, while team captain Colin Moran was to have one of his better games. Their first goal, three minutes later, helped them to turn the corner — coming when Cullen ran on to a through ball and passed to Vaughan.
Laois hadn’t time to recover before the unlucky Fergal Byron was taking the ball out of the net, this time when Bernard Brogan scored after a good move involving his brother and Keaney.
It saw them go in at the break in buoyant mood, 2-7 to 1-7 in front.
Maintaining this momentum on the resumption — signalled by the first of two points from the impressive Whelan after only 12 seconds — Dublin took an even firmer grip on the play. Laois produced two early points, but they counted for very little when Alan Brogan goaled again after just over five minutes.
Vaughan followed with a quick free (earned by Sherlock) and, with Alan Brogan and Vaughan adding further scores, Dublin had opened up a gap of eight points with just 12 minutes.
Notably, in spite of the fact that they were clearly dominant in general play — with Whelan achieving most at midfield in spite of the consistency of Padraic Clancy and improved play from Brendan Quigley — Dublin weren’t to add to their total for a further 16 minutes. During the same period, Laois responded with three frees from Tierney,
Nevertheless, this was a poor return for a huge investment in energy and effort, which saw Paul Lawlor at his best and Munnelly to the forefront too. Earlier McMahon hit a cracking shot against the crossbar and soon afterwards Cluxton did well to stop a rising kick from the industrious Colm Parkinson.
For their part, Dublin wasted some good possession at a time when the game was surprisingly open with lots of space on both flanks — with Sherlock spoiling his good work with several shots to the right. Admittedly, the same urgency wasn’t there because they already had one hand on the cup, but at times it wasn’t edifying to watch. Nor was the type of show-boating engaged in by Alan Brogan (surprisingly) and late substitute Kevin Bonner with their direct opponents at a late stage when play was at the other end of the field.
Appropriately because of the important role he played, it was Whelan who resumed Dublin’s scoring in the 64th minute, and substitutes Mossie Quinn and Gerard Brennan also got in on the act. At the end, the final whistle was very welcome.
Scorers for Dublin: M. Vaughan 1-6 (0-5 frees); A. Brogan 1-2; B Brogan, 1-0; C. Keaney (0-1f) and C. Whelan 0-2 each; T. Quinn and G. Brennan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Laois: M. Tierney 0-7 (0-6f, 0-1 ‘45); R. Munnelly 1-1;C. Parkinson 0-3; P. O’Leary, B. McCormack and B. Sheehan 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S. Cluxton; D. Henry, R. McConnell, P. Griffin; B. Cahill, B. Cullen, P. Casey; C. Whelan, S. Ryan; C. Moran (capt.), J. Sherlock, B. Brogan; C. Keaney, A. Brogan, M. Vaughan.
Subs: T. Quinn for Sherlock (63m); K. Bonner for Vaughan (66); G. Brennan for Casey (68); D. Connolly for B. Brogan (70); J. Magee for Whelan (71).
LAOIS: F. Byron; D. Rooney, J. Higgins, C. Ryan; B. McCormack, T. Kelly, P. McMahon; P. Clancy (capt.), B. Quigley; P. O’Leary, P. Lawlor, C. Parkinson; R. Munnelly, M. Tierney, B. McDonald. Subs: B. Sheehan for McDonald (50m); K. Fitzpatrick for Lawlor (65).
Referee: M. Hughes (Tyrone).