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Sunday 24 September 2017

Dubs must find ball winners before too late

SHC Qualifier: Dublin v Laois (Parnell Park, Tonight, 7.0)

Dublin manager Ger Cunnnigham. Pic: Sportsfile
Dublin manager Ger Cunnnigham. Pic: Sportsfile

They were due one. But there was no doubting that Dublin got the plumb draw early on Monday morning when the identity of their round one qualifier opponents was decided.

As Laois manager, Eamonn Kelly told The Herald this week: "They might have vulnerable if they drew Tipperary. But they're probably happy to have drawn us."

The reasons are varied.

Firstly, a long overdue home tie for Dublin is precisely what they craved, possibly even moreso than pulling one of the lower-ranking teams out of the hat, though they enjoyed both strokes of fortune in the one go.

Binding

Dublin's record in Parnell Park over the past six years is excellent and even if the current bunch haven't had too much experience there together, it's more the adverse reaction of away sides than any binding effect on the home that tends to work in Dublin's favour.

Dublin may elect to move Liam Rushe into their attack for tonight’s clash with Laois. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Dublin may elect to move Liam Rushe into their attack for tonight’s clash with Laois. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Secondly, Laois are easily the lowest-ranking of the four teams against whom Dublin could have been paired.

The other options were Tipperary, Waterford and Limerick - prospects which varied from ghastly to manageable as opponents for a team shy of confidence, cohesion and experience just now.

This is the only scenario (other than perhaps a home match against Limerick) where Dublin would have gone into this round as favourites to progress to round two.

Added to all that is the awful run of luck endured by Kelly and Laois this year and to be more specific, in the last week and you have yourself the dictionary definition of a plumb tie.

Already down 'Cha' Dwyer, John Lennon and Willie Dunphy through injuries which will again keep them out this evening in Parnell Park, Laois' top-scorer Ross King was sent off against Carlow last week for a red card about which there could be little debate.

Later, Stephen 'Picky' Maher was carted off with a knee injury that, on Wednesday, was confirmed as a cruciate ligament tear. So Laois, who had undergone a huge turnover of players between the end of 'Cheddar' Plunkett's reign and the beginning of Kelly's, are now down a significant portion of their most experienced men and given their identities, it's difficult to know where their scores will come from tonight.

Laois’ Ross King is suspended for tonight’s All-Ireland SHC qualifier in Parnell Park. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Laois’ Ross King is suspended for tonight’s All-Ireland SHC qualifier in Parnell Park. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Likewise, it's impossible to know how Dublin could have repaired in the weeks after that crushing Galway loss to the extent where they are a dangerous prospect for anyone in the draw other than Laois at present.

All the fears, all the suspicions and all the shortfalls in the team were there in evidence in Tullamore and ruthlessly exploited by a Galway team who were almost dismissive of a team against whom they once had a competitive and spiteful rivalry.

For all the scrambling done by the Dublin defence that day, they couldn't make a ball stick up front.

Hence, the ball came back down on top of said Dublin defence at an unmanageable rate and they were swamped.

Best

True, Joe Canning is the best forward in the country at present but few teams will grant him the sort of room of manoeuvre as Dublin afforded.

With forwards of the calibre and form of Galway's, it was only a matter of time before they found goals and zoomed clear.

What Ger Cunningham can do to rectify that most basic of weakness in the short term, we should find out when Dublin take their positions for throw-in tonight.

John Hetherton's late arrival brought some size and graft to the attack but he was only invited onto the squad two weeks prior to the Galway match.Seán Moran is a ball-winner of serious strength, though he was muted in his midfield role on what was his senior inter-county debut and a spot further forward is unlikely to suit his range of skills.

The obvious option available to Cunningham - switching Liam Rushe to attack - has at least as many clear downsides in what it take from the Dublin defence as it does in potentially positive affects to their attack.

All told, Dublin could do with Darragh O'Connell's speed around the middle but injury has again ruled him out.

Laois don't concede too many goals and Dublin don't score too many so while the odds may be stacked firmly in the home teams' favour, it may take them a little longer than expected to make their night comfortable.

ODDS: Dublin 1/12, Draw 16/1, Laois 15/2

VERDICT: Dublin

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