Little over 1,000 diehards decided Laois and Dublin were worth their undivided attention in Kilkenny yesterday for a game that was all-but over as a contest with over 20 minutes still to play.
Dublin arrived in the Marble City with a 10-game losing streak stretching back to last June following them like a bad smell, and with over half a team of what could conceivably have been first-choice players finding alternative means of spending their Sundays back in the capital.
The haemorrhaging of talent continued right up until throw-in with full-back Stephen Perkins and centre-back Simon Daly relegated to the bench after exams stymied their preparations in the last few weeks and the late changes certainly affected their defence’s equilibrium.
For the opening 35 minutes Humphrey Kelleher’s side bossed Laois like a schoolyard bully in every area of the field, bar their own full-back line where they seemed to cough up a goal every time Laois managed to break the stranglehold that was their half-back line.
Laois were simply dreadful in that opening half and, but for a trio of goals from Damien Culleton, James Young and Liam Tynan in that period, they would have been in dire straits.
Somehow, they left the field at the interval with a three-point lead - 3-3 to 0-9.
“Anybody watching that match today - there’s a simple answer - goals win games,” opined Kelleher later.
“That was the only difference. They scored goals, we didn’t. We scored nine times in the first half, they scored six but three of them were goals.
“There’s no way we’re 12 points a worse team than Laois.”
They were clearly inferior after the change of ends. Laois rallied impressively from the re-start, ticking off four quick points before Perkins, on as a sub, was unfortunate to receive a straight red for what looked to be an accidental strike on Culleton 44 minutes in.
Seven points and a man down, Dublin were struggling to stay above the waterline and they went under for good just four minutes later when Culleton latched onto a Joe Phelan pass before finding the net for a second time to leave it 4-7 to 0-9 with 23 minutes still to account for.
Laois tacked on a further four points before Ronan Fallon belatedly found an answer with Dublin’s first score in almost half an hour, inside the last 10 minutes, while the remainder of the game was played at challenge match pace with the sides swapping scores in an almost gentlemanly manner.
“You could see that the weight of the world was on our lads, especially in front of the posts at times, but once the gap opened the confidence came and we ended up convincing winners,” was the analysis of Laois manager Paudie Butler.
Progress is clearly being made in Laois, but it would want to accelerate at pace if Wexford are to be made sweat in Croke Park.
: P Mullaney; B Campion, P Cuddy, M McEvoy; J Fitzpatrick, D Rooney, S Dwyer (0-1); J Young (1-9, 6f, 1 pen), J Walsh; J Phelan, J Rowney, L Tynan (1-1); T Fitzgerald, M Rooney, D Culleton (2-1). Subs: E Meagher (0-1) for Rowney 23, P Russell (0-1) for Rooney 46, C Healy for Walsh 59, C Brophy for Culleton 62, C Coonan for Tynan 69.
: G Maguire; S O’Shea, G O’Meara; D Sweeney (0-2), R Fallon (0-1), S Hiney; T Moore (0-1), S McDonald; M Carton, D Curtin (0-4, 3f), D O’Reilly; E Carroll (0-3), M Breathnach, S Mullen (0-1). Subs: S Perkins for O’Shea 32, C Meehan (0-1) for M Carton 45, P Carton for Mullen 48, S Davey for McDonald 56, A de Paor (0-1) for Fallon 69.
: T McIntyre (Antrim).