July 17, 2005, a little after 5.30 in the afternoon.
Not quite the day the music died but it was certainly the point at which Laois ceased to call the tune. Mick O’Dwyer’s side were leading Dublin by a point in the Leinster final as the clock ticked through the 70th minute and a second provincial title in three years appeared imminent.
Within five hectic minutes, all that had changed. Almost every single Laois player folded like a broken accordion onto the Croke Park turf. Their Dublin counterparts and supporters celebrated with an abandon that would hardly be matched until last September.
All changed and changed utterly for both counties in that one moment.
For Dublin, after the trauma of defeats to Laois and Westmeath in the previous two years, it marked an elevation back to the provincial throne, one they have vacated just once in the years since.
For Laois, it was a second successive last-gasp loss in the decider, after their loss to Westmeath in a replay 12 months previously, and their stock would fall precipitously year on year for the next six. Until now, in fact.
Tomás ‘Mossy’ Quinn’s two late points, one from a free and the other a 45, provided the axis on which two worlds turned but the dying moments of that game provided plenty of other talking points still debated and mourned in the Midlands.
“We had beaten Dublin in 2003 but Laois had never beaten them in a Leinster final,” said Chris Conway, who scored four points that day. “What people forget about ’05 was that Dublin flew into a six-point lead and we turned it around to be one in front coming up to injury-time.
“My abiding memory of that day would be Ross Munnelly not getting a free under the Cusack Stand and then Dublin’s old friend from last year, Joe McQuillan, giving [Bryan Cullen] a debatable free but, in fairness to Mossy Quinn, he nailed the two of them.”
O’Dwyer, who had been on the wrong end of the game’s most famous knockout blow courtesy of Seamus Darby in the 1982 All-Ireland final, captured the devastation when he likened the loss to a “crucifixion”.
Dublin have batted Laois away in subsequent championship meetings — 2006, 2007 and 2011 — but Conway doesn’t believe that 2005 loss was the defining moment for his county’s fortunes.
For him, that came 13 months later when, after an unforeseen 14-point destruction by Paul Caffrey’s side, Laois revived themselves in the restorative waters of the qualifiers where they dethroned All-Ireland champions Tyrone on a monsoon of a day in O’Moore Park.
A rematch with the Dubs awaited if they could account for Mayo in the last eight but they failed to hold onto a two-point lead with time almost up and fell three points short in the replay.
“Had we won that we would have been playing Dublin again in our first [All-Ireland] semi-final in 50 or 60 years,” he reasons, “and we would have gone into that feeling everything was in our favour.”
The sides still weren’t done with each other.
The rivalry between the counties had really kicked off in 1996 when the Midlanders secured a first Leinster minor title in almost 30 years after a victory over Dublin in a replay and it would kick on through to the testy senior decider in 2007.
That meeting was the day when so many of Dublin’s players dirtied their bibs by pointing condescendingly to the scoreboard and shouting in their opponents’ faces but this was a rivalry that had always crackled.
For a time, it looked like the tete-a-tete would go on indefinitely. Between them, Laois and Dublin have claimed 12 of the last 17 Leinster minor and seven of the nine U21 titles between ’02 and ’10 but Laois’ underage sluice has dried up.
It is five years since the county won a provincial title at any of the three levels and the bad blood that threatened to poison their relationship with the capital cousins has diluted as a consequence.
It would take a shock of momentous proportions this evening to revive it.
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