herald

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Dublin have Moore than enough quality

Sugrue reawakens the beast in Laois ... but this is a step too far

CROKER MISSION: Laois manager John Sugrue celebrates their Leinster SFC semi-final win over Carlow with Damien O’Connor
CROKER MISSION: Laois manager John Sugrue celebrates their Leinster SFC semi-final win over Carlow with Damien O’Connor

SO we get to another Leinster final and we ask ourselves that familiar question: will Dublin even have to break sweat?

Last year they set a new record, at seven, for consecutive triumphs in the eastern province. Tomorrow they can equal Kerry's Munster benchmark of eight.

And you won't find a single neutral - anywhere - to say they won't.

It begs the question: should Laois even turn up? Yes, of course they should, not just because they have earned the right to be here but because it's a first opportunity to really measure the extent of their revival under John Sugrue.

To date, given where Laois were coming from, it has been hugely impressive. The one caveat is that in winning ten league and championship matches on the spin, they have yet to face elite opposition, never mind the best of the best.

Nine of those victories came against teams playing in Division 4 this year. The other was against Division 3 opponents, Westmeath, who were stuck in the mire.

Hurricane

So Laois come to Croker hoping they are ready for the hurricane that awaits. But they can't be sure until they are faced with Brian Fenton and Michael Darragh Macauley marauding through the middle; Ciarán Kilkenny darting in and out, seeking to probe and penetrate; Con O'Callaghan and Paul Mannion pressing on the afterburners and making a beeline for goal.

Much will depend on whether the O'Moore County can stay in the game until half-time. Dublin's ability to locate gaps and go for the early jugular against lower division rivals has been a near-constant during the Jim Gavin era.

For all that, there are some grounds for cautious optimism.

First up, Laois under Sugrue appear far more of a 'team' than they've been in the recent past. This is reflected in the words of midfielder John O'Loughlin when he says: "When we've won a match (previously) it could be because some lads are playing brilliant but it's never been a collective."

Hence the boom-to-bust tendencies that have blighted so many recent campaigns. They haven't totally eradicated this kink of inconsistency - consider their disastrous start in Wexford last month - but the very fact that they reeled in a ten-point deficit that evening suggests they aren't the flaky Laois of old.

Likewise, even though their semi-final against Carlow made for grim viewing, Laois were methodical in their attempts to prise an opening. Whereas, as O'Loughlin admitted: "If it was the old Laois, or even the old way I used to play, just trying to run through lads ... that's meat and drink to them (Carlow)."

Tomorrow is liable to be far more open and the likes of Ross Munnelly, Donie and Paul Kingston will have more room to breathe. But will a Laois defence missing their stricken skipper, Stephen Attride, be able to repel the inevitable onslaught at the other end?

The near-certainty is that they won't hold out forever. Dublin simply have too much jet-heeled pace and voracious intensity; and too many alternative scoring outlets (11 different scorers against Wicklow, the same number against Longford).

Rude health

They've totalled 6-50 over two games, 6-41 coming from open play, and while numerous more goal chances have been left behind, their point-shooting accuracy (12 wides over two games) reflects positively on their rude health up front, even minus Diarmuid Connolly and (for the moment at least) Bernard Brogan.

Still, we'll finish with a chink of positivity for Laois. On past history and current form, they should get quite a bit closer than Wicklow (23-point victims) and Longford (19-point losers).

They only lost by three points to the Dubs in 2012, by 11 in 2014 (having led by two at the break) and by 11 again in 2016 (when they made a half-decent comeback with 14 men after a horror-show start).

However, it's all relative. If Laois can reprise Kildare's single-digit defeat in last year's final, that might even qualify as a moral victory and leave them in decent fettle to push on for a 'Super 8' place.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Dublin 1/100 Draw 50/1 Laois 20/1

VERDICT: Dublin

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