JOHN DIVILLY: Long ball ploy was never going to be enough for Laois against Dublin

It’s a good job Dublin don’t execute the perfect performance every time they play. For if they did, the umpires would be going to the UU (Umpire Union) looking for better T&C’s.

The Dublin supporters sitting beside me in the Davin Stand were shifting awkwardly while their attackers were trying to lace up their scoring boots. Meanwhile, the Laois fans were nudging each other giddily every time their duo of lone rangers, O’Carroll and Donie Kingston, got hold of the ball. They looked lively and were posing questions.

That was Laois’s problem though, their lone rangers were left alone too often. They got no decisive support. They were expected to win their primary ball, shrug off their marker and score. Don’t get me wrong, that’s what I would expect of my forwards.

But some occasional support from your half-forward line or midfielders would have given Laois the opportunity to score more. That was the main difference for me yesterday. 

The Dublin forwards always had support runners which gave them multiple options in front of goal. The Laois forwards, more often than not, left their inside ball winners to their own devices.

Both teams had contrasting attacking styles. Laois’s first option was to drill long diagonal passes into O’Carroll and Donie whereas Dublin preferred the option of one-twos with a support player coming from deep or on the loop. 

In the first half, when Laois believed in their gameplan, Paul Kingston was the go-to man. He gave the Dublin ‘stand-in’ captain Jonny Cooper the runaround. Once in possession, there was a quick glance to see where Donie and Evan were positioned, predominately the edge of the square.

Balls floated in and flutters of panic in Hill 16. But no panic around ‘stand-in’ keeper Evan Comerford. He and his Dublin defence dealt with this tactic easily. Why? Because even though both O’Carroll and Kingston were winning primary possession off Mick Fitzsimons and Philip McMahon, they couldn’t score off them.

These Dublin defenders are cute and experienced. They forced the Laois attackers out the field or put serious pressure on their attempted scores. As a result, Laois had nine first-half wides.

Why didn’t Laois have support runners coming like trains at the Dublin defence? It was their tactic to go long. They knew they had a decent chance of securing possession. The hardest forward to mark is the one who runs hard, fast and often at your defence. The only time that Laois ran hard at Dublin they created a two-on-one situation. 

Donal Kingston pulled Philly McMahon away from the goal leaving Alan Farrell with a glorious chance to put Laois into the lead.

Instead, a slight hesitation and the ball flies over instead of under the crossbar. That was Laois’s only goal-scoring opportunity in the match. So while the Dublin fans were twitching every time a long ball came in, they needn’t have worried as Laois refused to really attack Evan Comerford’s goal with purpose. In fact, they made life really easy for the Ballymun netminder.

Comerford was successfully allowed to go short with all his kickouts in the first half. Howard, Cooper, McCarthy and Fitzsimons were the preferred go-to men for Evan.

From my vantage point, he showed all the qualities and traits of his ‘boss’. His boss, Mr Cluxton, will be proud of his prodigy’s display.

He was intercepted once in the second half though. Evan O’Carroll managed to pilfer a kickout only to receive a thunderous shoulder from the recently graduated doctor. The Jack is back.

Jack McCaffrey’s glorious second-half gallops kept us all awake in the second half. He’s lost none of his pace, enthusiasm or willingness to open up opposition defences.

 I’m sure that if he creates those wonderful goal opportunities, that he had yesterday, in the Super 8s, he’ll side-step the goalkeeper and score. Every player is entitled to be a little rusty after such a long lay-off.

Cormac Costello wasn’t though. He was on fire up front and was snipping at every opportunity, similar to Bernard Brogan. Costello epitomised the Dubs’ attacking strategy. Dublin favoured the one-two approach yesterday. Costello to Kilkenny to Costello and point. Kilkenny to Rock, back to Kilkenny and score. Scully to Rock, return pass to Scully and score.

Naturally, Dublin can mix it up and when the spaces opened up we got their long ball strategy. In comparison to Laois, Dublin didn’t pass the ball aerially. All Dublin’s long kick passes were into space and away from the clutches of the Laois defenders.

Brian Fenton sprays a pass into Costello and he pops a score. Paul Mannion kicks a diagonal pass into Rock. Rock knocks it over. James McCarthy with a long ball into Conor McHugh. McHugh gives the return to McCarthy who pops to Brian Fenton and he kicks the final score of the game. Dublin’s penultimate score came from my MOM, Brian Howard.

Howard was magnificent. He was always an option for his own kickouts. He pushed up and won Laois kickouts. He tackled hard and set up numerous attacks. He knew when to leave his marker and drop back into the pocket to defend the Laois aerial threat. He goes about the pitch in a very unassuming yet very effective style.

He kicked a deserved point close to full-time to cap a wonderful senior Leinster final debut. He is forging a dynamic and steely axis up the flank with Niall Scully.

The Dubs move on. Eight Leinsters in a row means a place in the Super 8s. They have some work to do defensively as there are a lot of quality forwards left in the Championship who will be studying today’s match.

Michael Murphy, Shane Walsh and David Clifford could hurt Dublin yet if they get the same space that Laois were afforded in the first half yesterday.

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