That mightn’t have been the intent of Brian Fenton with his point in the fifth minute of additional time but in finding the posts he ensured the All-Ireland champions won their provincial final by one more point than the Munster winners did the evening before.
Pulverising Division 4 opposition may not be on the same level as embarrassing a Division 2 outfit who would always believe their tribalistic relationship with Kerry evens up the score, but in capturing an eighth straight provincial title, at least Dublin were able to redeem themselves after a wasteful first half.
Ciarán Kilkenny’s goal was their only “under” despite four clear-cut opportunities in the first half, two of them coming from Con O’Callaghan in the opening six minutes.
GOAL for Dublin's Ciarán Kilkenny! pic.twitter.com/jK04QS2p63— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 24, 2018
A Paul Mannion penalty in the 20th minute flew wide of Graham Brody’s left-hand post.
The seven goal chances spurned won’t hurt at this stage of the championship but they will be noted. Nine wides and three shots that dropped short summed up Dublin’s first half, even though they led at the end of it, 1-8 to 0-7. Of the 18 clear-cut scoring opportunities in the second half, they struck just one wide.
“Clunky” was the word Jim Gavin used to describe Dublin’s first half and he wasn’t wrong. Composed would have been an appropriate description for what followed after the turnaround.
“We were quite clinical in the second half,” said Gavin. “I think maybe our first wide was after the 26th minute of the second half. Our execution was positive, we had lots of scores from play, and maybe eight or nine different scorers.”
How sloppy Dublin were in front of the 41,728 Croke Park attendance shouldn’t take too much away from how sharp Laois were in the early exchanges. Donie Kingston was fed often and rewards were reaped.
Indeed, the trouble he caused Philly McMahon and the difficulty Jonny Cooper at times found shadowing Paul Kingston will give more developed sides like Donegal grounds for optimism.
“We got a bit of joy off kicking the ball to a great degree, we’ve got fellas who can kick the ball and we utilised that,” said Laois boss John Sugrue of their early inroads. “But you’ve got to look at the second half as well and see where we fell down. You know, we’ve got work to do.”
Laois absorbed that fourth-minute Kilkenny goal to draw level in the 17th minute with the second of two Kingston points from play.
After two Dublin scores, Alan Farrell brought Laois to within a point again in the 26th minute when a goal looked on.
Dublin finished out the half with five points on the bounce and added three more following a Kieran Lillis effort to lead 1-12 to 0-6 by the 42nd minute.
A Kingston free came next but Dublin then went into overdrive with 10 unanswered points in 21 minutes, a spell which also featured Jack McCaffrey goal-bound shots snuffed out by Brody and his replacement Eoghan Keogh. Cormac Costello was finisher extraordinaire as Kilkenny played conductor.
Jonny Cooper lifts the cup as Dublin are crowned Leinster football champions! pic.twitter.com/mR1T2mb475— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 24, 2018
When others only found their feet in the second half, it was the Castleknock man who was the constant. There was his early goal, his point, his assist for the penalty won by Niall Scully, the assist for O’Callaghan to score in the 36th minute and three points in the closing 20 minutes.
As for whether Costello could make the breakthrough and put behind him seasons pockmarked by injuries, there was evidence it’s within him yesterday.
“That’s a reflection of his club form with Whitehall (Colmcilles) and reflection of how he’s training” said Gavin.
“It was good to see Jack (McCaffrey) back as well while Darren Daly did a solid job when he came in.
“Paul Flynn, I thought he did a lot of hard work and presented himself well for the ball, Conor McHugh is playing really well for us and again contributed towards the end. Again, that’s the collective ethos the boys have.”
D. Rock (0-8, 5 frees, 1 45); C. Kilkenny (1-4); C. Costello (0-4); C. O’Callaghan, P. Andrews, B. Fenton (0-2 each); P. Mannion, N. Scully, B. Howard (0-1 each).
D. Kingston (0-4, 2 frees); A. Farrell, G. Walsh (0-2 each); K. Lillis, E. O’Carroll (0-1 each).
E. Comerford; E. Lowndes, P. McMahon, M. Fitzsimons; J. McCarthy, J. Cooper (c), B. Howard; B. Fenton, M.D. Macauley; N. Scully, C. O’Callaghan, C. Kilkenny; P. Mannion, D. Rock, P. Andrews.
J. McCaffrey for E. Lowndes (h-t); C. Costello for P. Andrews (46); J. Small for M.D. Macauley (52); P. Flynn for C. O’Callaghan (55); D. Daly for P. Mannion (61); C. McHugh for D. Rock (68).
J. Small (straight, 58).
G. Brody (v-c); D. Strong, M. Timmons, G. Dillon; F. Crowley, C. Begley, T. Collins; J. O’Loughlin (v-c), K. Lillis; A. Farrell, P. Kingston, N. Donoher; E. O’Carroll, D. Kingston, D. O’Connor.
B. Carroll for N. Donoher (48); R. Munnelly for F. Crowley (52); E. Keogh for G. Brody (inj 55); D. Holland for D. Strong (58); B. Glynn for A. Farrell (63); G. Walsh for P. Kingston (67).
B. Cassidy (Derry).
Like the New Zealand rugby team, Dublin know how to rectify themselves. The half-time breaks are turning into advantages for the All-Ireland champions and here they more than made up for an out-of-sorts first half.
Even if they lost one of them to a red card, the impact of the Dublin bench was felt again here as Cormac Costello helped himself to four points, kicking the team’s only wide of the second half, and Jack McCaffrey carved out two goal chances for himself.
Just one small mistake by Evan Comerford on his Championship debut, a kick-out that failed to go the minimum distance. Jim Gavin may have exaggerated how good he was when he called his performance ‘exceptional’ but it can’t be denied he was solid.
This result, this margin, as gritty as Laois were in the first half, won’t do anything for the old brigade claiming the provincial championships have a viable future.
Graham Brody went off injured even though he seemed upset with the decision. Gavin said Cian O’Sullivan might have seen some action were he needed and commended Bernard Brogan’s determination as he is back on the field following his cruciate operation earlier this year.
Stephen Cluxton, he reported, will be fit for the Donegal match.
Laois tested Evan Comerford with a variety of diagonal ball in the direction of Donie Kingston, even though he was too far away from goal to really put the newbie under pressure. Laois could have pushed up more on Comerford’s kick-outs.
Ciarán Kilkenny was in tip-top form. His 1-4 tally didn’t tell all about how influential he was, setting up the penalty as well as a few scores. Costello impressed when coming on for the second half.
Barry Cassidy’s job was made much easier by how dominant Dublin were in the second half.
There was enough reason to show John Small a red card although Small may have been punished for Johnny Cooper’s close shave against Longford.
Dublin face Donegal in their first-round Super 8 game in Croke Park on July 14 or 15. Laois will be out again the previous weekend at a neutral venue with the prize a spot in the quarterfinal group opposing Dublin.