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Analysis: Laois rock hurling with impressive win over Dublin

Laois lead from start to finish to beat Dublin 1-22 to 0-23 in the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final.

Laois produced one of the biggest upsets in recent times this past weekend, defeating Dublin in their preliminary quarter-final and arranging an All-Ireland clash with Tipperary in Croke Park.

The storyline going into the game was that Laois, with just a week to prepare having beaten Westmeath in the Joe McDonagh final last weekend, would be a relatively handy walkover for Dublin, who had beaten Galway in their previous game. Laois, of course, had other ideas, but it came as no surprise to a lot of hurling followers that the O’Moore County would put it up to the Dubs on home turf. They had survived life in Division 1B of the league, had blitzed through the Joe McDonagh Cup, and had some seriously talented players that would give Mattie Kenny’s side plenty to think about.

The week turnaround wasn’t ideal, and gave them little time to celebrate their promotion into Leinster hurling ‘proper’, but Eddie Brennan’s side’s victory opens up a number of cans of worms, including the real benefit of months-long drinking bans, the possibility of a six-team Leinster championship, and the undoubted success of the Joe McDonagh victors’ entry into the All-Ireland series. Brennan wasn’t quiet about laying out his displeasure at the means with which Laois had to go into this game, but if his words are heeded and changes are made to next year’s calendar, this win gives the second level of hurling counties a tremendous amount of belief that they can follow in Laois’ footsteps.

Laois picked up where they left off to start the match, making the first three attempts at the posts. What was noticeable in the opening five minutes was their work rate in defensive areas, smothering Dublin players in twos and threes. At this point, it was difficult to know if this was adrenaline or truly sustainable.

If Laois were to have any hope, they needed big games from their big players. In the opening ten minutes, Cha Dwyer, Paddy Purcell and Mark Kavanagh had all found the target, while Ryan Mullaney and John Lennon had both produced excellent pieces of defensive work. Dwyer was coming deep in-field, operating as another midfielder, while John Lennon was dropping deeper again into a sweeper role. Willie Dunphy was also coming deep to chip in with defensive duties. This left Sean Moran as the spare man in Dublin’s defence.

Eamon Dillon had broken through the Laois half-back line, but Mullaney (white helmet #6) flicked the ball off his stick.

Lee Cleere (left, blue helmet) beat Oisin O’Rorke to the ball and Lennon swept up.

The above piece of defending, with John Lennon working superbly deep within his half-back line, directly led to Laois’ goal. Lee Cleere, the corner back, had tracked O’Rorke and beaten him to the ball and together with Lennon, they combined to launch the ball back down the field.

Cleere’s ball was over-struck, and was just about to roll over the end line when Willie Dunphy raced in to scoop it up ahead of Sean Moran who has very slow off the mark.

At this point, Dunphy (#13) had kept the ball in play, gathered and turned Moran before approaching goal.

Dunphy motored towards the end line before having a shot at goal from a narrow angle. Nolan saved, but Alan Dunphy was waiting in the square to tap the ball into the net.

Dunphy, blue helmet approaching the square, was fortunate that the ball came his way, but he had a vital yard of space on Darragh O’Connell.

From the resulting puck-out, Laois came out of some helter skelter play in their own half of the field with a long range free, which Mark Kavanagh pointed. With just over 10 minutes elapsed, Laois were 1-4 to 0-2 up and Dublin were in trouble from an early point in the game.

Laois were full of physicality and aggression in the back lines, with Dwyer and Lennon back helping. Mullaney was having a stormer, with his ability to win ball and work it up the field standing out. Dublin’s forwards were struggling, with bad decision making and overrunning into trouble causing them issues.

Cha Dwyer, #14, back helping his corner back.

They soon steadied the ship however, inspired by Ronan Hayes who was beginning to get the better of Matthew Whelan. A couple of nice scores from himself, Cian Boland and Danny Sutcliffe pulled the deficit back to a goal.

Dublin were also giving away a lot of silly frees in handy positions. Paddy Smyth and Chris Crummey had both been pulled up for pulling and dragging out of their markers before the ball had even arrived, from which Kavanagh nailed each free.

Laois returned to a seven-point lead as the half closed out, with tremendous points from Willie Dunphy, Dwyer and King, who had drifted over to the right wing forward position, as well as a mammoth score from wing back Jack Kelly.

A couple of scores from Sutcliffe and Conal Keaney reduced the deficit to five points at the break, with the scores 1-12 to 0-10. It was a really impressive performance from Laois thus far, putting it up to Dublin in every facet of the game, with impressive score-taking and some good fortune with the goal giving them a nice cushion at the interval. At this point, Dublin knew they were in big trouble, while belief amongst the Laois players and supporters was mounting.

Dublin Charge Back

Indeed, Dublin came out in the second half and looked much hungrier. Their work rate was up a few notches and they scored the first three points of the half to bring it back to a two-score deficit, with Cian Boland scoring two nice scores from left half forward. O’Rorke had missed two frees as well, but Dublin looked much improved.

Willie Dunphy finally broke the tension for Laois with a fine score from the sideline. At this stage, Dunphy was all over the field, while Ross King was the sole operator in the full forward line. Laois added a couple of more big scores from Mullaney and a long range free from Kavanagh to keep the Dubs at arm’s length.

A huge moment in the game came just over 10 minutes into the half when Enda Rowland came to his county’s rescue. A booming ball from an Alan Nolan puck-out found Sutcliffe without issue, one of the few times the Dublin forwards were left space from long range. He did excellently to shake off Lennon and Kelly, and drove at goal – only to be denied by Rowland. It was a super save. A goal would have lifted Dublin an incredible amount, not least levelled the game.

Sutcliffe (red helmet) shakes of Kelly and Lennon to free up space to shoot.

Rowland saves and the ball goes out for a ’65.

Instead, Dublin had to pick their scores to reel the game in level. Danny Sutcliffe was getting the better of Kelly and scored a follow-up point to his goal miss, while O’Rorke nailed a 21-yard free to level the game as Laois began to loosen in the back lines. Willie Dunphy, however, nailed a great point from the sideline to put the O’Moore men back in front.

A few seconds later, Laois earned a free which Kavanagh pointed once again. Suddenly, Laois were two ahead again. It was a very impressive response to the drawn score, as the crowd and the players lifted the game when it felt like Dublin were reeling them in. A bad Alan Nolan puck-out from Kavanagh’s score directly led to an Alan Dunphy score, and now they were back to a three-point lead.

Enda Rowland showed his importance with a drilled free from deep inside his own half. A highly rated goalkeeper, he put his name on the map with some huge scores and vital saves.

Dublin edged back quickly with a free from their own, but once again Willie Dunphy was on hand to put the game back to three points. Some poor handling in the Dublin back-line led to substitute Stephen Bergin sweeping in to pick up the pieces and pop the ball to Dunphy, who scored nicely.

With the clock ticking, Dublin won a free after a melee of Dublin players surrounded Willie Dunphy. Note in the screenshot below that the free was won near the lady sitting next to the AIB sign. Eddie Brennan’s management were furious as Paul Ryan stole a huge chunk of yardage which wasn’t spotted by the officials. He then went and scored the free to bring it back to two points.

The free is won inside Dublin’s ’45.

The free was taken by Paul Ryan well away from the spot of the free.

Incredibly, Enda Rowland stepped up once again soon after and launched a free from deep inside his half, near the sideline, to bring it back to a goal lead. We were just in injury time at this point, and Dublin needed a goal. From the Nolan retake, Sean Moran got a hold of the ball inside the Laois 21, but his shot was struck straight at Rowland.

Laois battled bravely to see the game out, but lost John Lennon in the meantime, who received a second yellow card after hauling down a Dublin player rather than offering up a goal chance. It was a sensational performance, with some 10/10 performances from a number of Laois’ key players, who impressively weren’t behind for a second of the match. Willie Dunphy was superb in the forwards, working deep with Cha Dwyer to help the midfield. John Lennon was excellent in a deeper role, while Ryan Mullaney had a mammoth game at centre back. Enda Rowland is now an All Star contender for the #1 shirt.

For Dublin, it was a very disappointing performance that put an end to their 2019 campaign. Having beaten Galway to earn a pass through the Leinster championship, hopes were high for the Dubs. But Laois were simply the better team on the day, matching the Dubs on either side of the park. Laois limited the aerial impact of the Dublin defence, and did just enough to keep the likes of Cian Boland and Danny Sutcliffe at bay for portions of the game. Importantly, Laois managed to find the net, while Rowland kept his sheet clean.

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