Honourable defeat best Laois can expect

The giddy reaction in the capital when Dublin’s name was paired with that of Laois last weekend was only heightened with the realisation Pat Gilroy’s side will face Mayo or Down in the semi-final should they do their jobs this evening.

Let’s face it, they should. Dublin have beaten today’s opponents by an average of over nine points on the last three occasions they have met in championship, even if that should reduce come 9pm.

Even Laois manager, Justin McNulty, admits a kind draw has opened the path this far for a team that was on its knees after relegation to Division Two and defeat to Longford in Leinster and yet they have undoubtedly improved since.

Injury to defender Shane Julian required a reshuffle and, whether by accident or design, the side is better balanced since with a useful spine of Kevin Meaney at full-back, John O’Loughlin, Brendan Quigley and Colm Begley at midfield and Pádraig Clancy up front.

Laois are now beginning to operate like a modern football side, all perpetual motion and with wing-backs bombing through to kick scores.

In Eoin Culliton, they have a fine goalkeeper but the suspicion is they rely too much on the excellent Ross Munnelly for scores which won’t do against a defence like Dublin’s.

The jury remains out as to the health and appetite of the All-Ireland champions who were sublime against a ragged Louth, stuttered against Wexford and so-so in the provincial final defeat of Meath.

That said, Gilroy seems to have pointed them in the right direction with the promotion of Cian O’Sullivan and Michael Darragh Macauley to the starting XV the last day and the return to the bench of Diarmuid Connolly after suspension adding a welcome complication to the mix.

Eoghan O’Gara’s sublime performance against Meath, when he replaced the injured Alan Brogan, suggested that the rough edges are finally being hewn from the shoulders of the Ballyboden man and that bodes ill for everyone else.

Whatever about the combination up front, it is in midfield where the intrigue lies most and all eyes should be on Denis Bastic and Eamon Fennell. Their battle with Quigley and Begley could be epic, particularly in view of the fact that Laois will station the likes of Clancy and Billy Sheehan in around the middle third, but the underdogs will need to dominate there if they are to keep this interesting.

No-one in the Laois camp would admit as much but an honourable defeat would allow them say adieu to the championship with their heads held high while Dublin would be none too dissatisfied with a contest rather than a procession.

Verdict: Dublin

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