It’s difficult to know whether Justin McNulty and his Laois players actually wanted to win the game or were they more concerned with not getting a heavy drubbing, as many expected.
Indeed over recent years this Laois team have suffered many heavy defeats, on the back of some abject performances.
In the same fixture last year Laois went down by eight points to Dublin but it could and should have been much more such was the gap between the sides.
Therefore in terms of building a winning team maybe Saturday evening’s ‘honourable’ defeat was a step in their long-term development.
To gain parity with Dublin you first need to square up to them in the physical stakes, and Justin McNulty’s troops were not found wanting. There would have been a lot of very sore bodies in the Laois dressing-room after the game such was the intense and attritional nature of Saturday’s encounter.
But these players will be happy to nurse a bruised body rather than a bruised ego such was the manliness of their challenge.
John O’Loughlin, Colm Begley, Brendan Quigley along with many others fought manfully throughout, and whilst they were over-run for periods in the first and second halves, they still managed to prevent the floodgates from opening.
Dublin will be relieved they survived this bruising encounter but they were more comfortable than their three-point margin might suggest.
Keeper Stephen Cluxton was never tested and Laois were limited to scores from placed balls in the second half.
Generally Dublin were solid at the back but their job was made a lot easier by a defence-orientated Laois side who refused to commit the necessary bodies forward, especially in the closing stages when the game was hanging in the balance.
By not committing bodies forward, Justin Mc Nulty was putting a priority on not giving Dublin’s marquee forwards the space to inflict damage.
He succeeded in this regard.
After a shaky start Cahir Healy got to grips with Bernard Brogan — to such an extent that Bernard got the curly finger half way through the second half.
Diarmuid Connolly was a peripheral figure for long periods and certainly didn’t appreciate the close attention he received when in possession.
He also took an early shower. Whilst Dublin had many missed chances throughout, many of these shots were taken under pressure and from difficult angles. A Dublin forward rarely had a time when a Laois jersey wasn’t stuck to him. In the end Dublin’s victory stemmed from some key scorers further back in the field.
The 45s from the unflappable Cluxton along with a fortuitous goal created by Michael Dara Mccauley’s strong running were key differences between the sides. Add in Kevin Nolan’s final score who, after watching his forwards flap about for most of the evening, drove forward in the closing stages to show how it’s done.
For the third time this year Dublin have put in a less than impressive performance, and more worryingly for their supporters against what many would regard as second tier teams. It is always a good sign of a team that can win playing poorly but you won’t always get away with that .
If Dublin are going to retain Sam Maguire they will need Alan Brogan at his best.
Dublin’s forwards, especially his brother Bernard, look very disjointed when Alan isn’t there to orchestrate things.
Not only does he supply his customary 2-3 points but he sets up others and provides a calming influence. Pat Gilroy took a calculated risk yesterday by not playing Alan.
I have no doubt if it were an All-Ireland final or if Dublin were playing a higher rated opposition, Alan would have featured. Pat Gilroy felt they could get through Saturday’s encounter minus his services and by doing so ensured he would be fully fit for the bigger tasks that lie ahead.
As he has done so often, Pat Gilroy called this one right, the gamble paid off.
His pair of kings was good enough to take the pot as Laois had no aces in their deck. But Pat will be well aware that he and his players wont get away much longer before their hand is called and when that time comes they will need to be holding a few aces.
Alan Brogan was the reason Dublin won the All-Ireland last year, and if he fails to regain full fitness, he could also be the reason they won’t win it again this year.
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