Dubs take first step on long road to redemption

Dublin 4-17 Laois 0-19

Dubs take first step on long road to redemption

Redemption? Certainly not. The perfect performance? Not even close to that either.

Still, in the choppy waters of the All-Ireland qualifiers staying afloat is critical and Dublin at least remain buoyant in this year’s Championship.

A huge wides tally — 21 in total — was concerning but, crucially, there is hope for Dublin going forward.

Not because they beat Laois by a double-digit margin but because they did so with a number of personnel and positional switches that hinted they may be onto something.

By switching Liam Rushe and Conal Keaney back to their best positions, centre-back and full-forward respectively, Ger Cunningham ensured calmness in his team again.

They looked balanced, dynamic at times and capable of exhibiting blistering pace when required, much of it in the legs of the recalled Eamonn Dillon.

Keaney and Mark Schutte tortured Laois’ defence, contributing 3-4 between them, while the latter’s brother, Paul, perhaps best summed up the road they’ve travelled since crashing out of the Leinster championship to Galway.

The defender was the man left with singe marks when Galway’s Cathal Mannion caught fire but was terrific in Portlaoise, displaying his full fitness with a powerful display.

“I have huge confidence in Paul Schutte,” said manager Ger Cunningham.

“He’s probably been our best defender all year. I think the last day it’s very difficult when you start a game and your man gets a goal in the first 60 seconds, you’re on the back foot straight away. But he was just back from injury. We were missing Peter Kelly, it was a risk, in hindsight, that we shouldn’t have taken. But we did.

“It just goes to show the strength of character for him to come out with a performance like that this time.”

Plenty of reasons to be optimistic then for a Dublin side who, as Cunningham pointed out, are ‘back in the ball game’.

The task will surely be far stiffer next weekend though when they compete for a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

“Absolutely, it’s going to be a big step up,” continued Cunningham.

“And we only have a week to turn things around. This performance wouldn’t be good enough to get us into an All-Ireland quarter-final but it does give us something to work on.

“Our shooting was poor so that is something in particular to focus on. I think we’re all just looking forward to another game.

“Four weeks has been a long time waiting to get back on the pitch, to prove to ourselves that the last day wasn’t a true reflection of where we’re at.

“On the other hand, it did give us a chance to reflect. We were very disappointing against Galway. We didn’t show up. We were struggling after 10 minutes. It didn’t happen. But the four weeks gave us that bit of time.

“By the same token, it’s a long time before you have another game to get it out of your system so there’s ups and downs. Portlaoise was a tough place to come but we were ready for it and we got a good start.”

A two-goal blast from Mark Schutte courtesy of batted finishes had Dublin soaring early on, 2-2 to 0-1 up after just seven minutes.

A rout seemed a possibility though Laois are a more hardened bunch under Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett and displayed their solid exterior, and no little amount of quality, in battling back to level terms by the 23rd minute.

The hosts gained some traction with a buttressed defence, corner-forward Joe Campion starting in the half-backs and freeing up Brian Stapleton for a sweeper’s role.

But Dublin applied the gas again before half-time and Keaney’s industry was rewarded with a 32nd minute goal after a stunning pass across goals from forward colleague Schutte.

Dublin would enhance a 3-9 to 0-13 half-time lead with points from Paul Ryan, Keaney and Dillon after the restart to leave eight in it.

Standards dipped from there though as both sides went through the motions.

We went 13 minutes without a score as the two teams blasted wide after wide.

Dublin at least finished with gusto and a 1-2 scoring assault, the injury-time goal coming from sub David O’Callaghan. All in all, an outcome to settle nerves.

“We were certainly apprehensive beforehand but we knew we had the work done at the same time,” said Cunningham.

“We learned lessons from the Galway game and we’ve momentum now but, again, that performance overall wouldn’t be good enough next weekend.”

Game-changer

Conal Keaney’s 32nd minute goal for Dublin, their third, was a pivotal moment. Laois had fought back from a terrible start and a seven-point deficit to level it after 23 minutes. But Dublin hit the gas again and Keaney’s goal left Laois needing to launch a second revival. They tried and were competitive throughout but couldn’t pull it off again.

Talk of the town

Ger Cunningham has overhauled his Dublin team and the early signs are positive. The entire spine of the team from goalkeeper to full-forward has been changed from the Galway game and so far, so good. But are they an All-Ireland force? Answering that one would be a foolish endeavour. They are capable of great peaks and troughs so cautious optimism is advised.

Did that just happen?

From time to time, Conal Keaney is unmarkable and he was in one of those moods on Saturday evening. His first half performance in particular was phenomenal and he scored an 18th minute point for the ages. He gathered possession on the right wing before selling an outrageous dummy close to the sideline and, off balance, somehow managed to split the posts.

Best on show

Notwithstanding Keaney’s excellence and the importance of Mark Schutte’s attacking contributions, corner-back Paul Schutte was the game’s star man. He started on Laois danger man Zane Keenan and played beautifully, complementing regimental marking with tonnes of clearances. A fine riposte to his nightmare against Galway.

Sideline superior

Ger Cunningham gets the kudos for going back to the drawing board and devising a new blue print. Dublin looked more settled and balanced. Laois’s sweeper system worked well for 15 minutes or so in the first-half but they lacked the same firepower.

What’s next?

Dublin will play a Round 2 All-Ireland qualifier next weekend. They will learn their opposition in this morning’s draw. Laois’s season is over.

Scorers for Dublin:

M Schutte (2-1); C Keaney (1-3); P Ryan (0-5, 4 frees); E Dillon (0-4); D O’Callaghan (1-0); S Barrett, J McCaffrey, R O’Dwyer, D Plunkett (0-1 each).

Scorers for Laois:

Z Keenan (0-6, 5 frees); W Hyland (0-4); C Dwyer (0-3); J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, T Delaney, S Maher, N Foyle, J Campion (0-1 each).

Subs:

S Durkin for Barrett (52), D O’Callaghan for Boland (60), D Treacy for Ryan (70), D Plunkett for Sutcliffe (71).

Subs:

JA Delaney for Stapleton (h/t), N Foyle for Fitzgerald (44), J Walsh for Purcell (44), PJ Scully for Whelan (47), B Conroy for Maher (69).

Referee:

J Ryan (Tipperary)

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