THE result was no great surprise, but then again it was unless you expected the 22-point victory by Dublin over hugely disappointing Laois in the Leinster senior hurling semi-final in Tullamore on Saturday evening.
The consequence of the outcome was that Dublin now face All-Ireland and National League champions, Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final in Portlaois on June 23. The second semi will be between Galway and Offaly.
The merits or otherwise of such a big and easy win for Dublin will arouse the usual debate in the media during the coming weeks about how worthwhile the match was; will it give the victors a false sense of their worth or are Dublin as good as the 3-23 to 1-7 scoreline might suggest.
That is all irrelevant stuff really, because all that matters now is June 23, a clash both counties have anticipated from virtually the day the draw was made for the provincial championship series.
But here’s something to ponder. The last time Laois and Dublin clashed in the Leinster championship was 2010. The scoreline was 0-25 (D) to 0-16 (L).
The game was played in Nowlan Park and one Niall Rigney, the current manager of James Stephens, was the Laois manager at the time. Rigney had Laois well drilled and united, but they have, apparently, lost their way big time since.
Well informed sources suggest Laois would have in the region of 10 players not involved on Saturday who would be good enough for the team, but they are simply not interested, for whatever reason.
Progressed at rate of knots
In the championship of 2011, the O’Moore County, again less than united, lost by 1-21 (24) to 3-12 against Antrim when Kilkenny man, Brendan Fennelly was at the helm.
The pertinent point is that while Laois have gone backwards, Dublin have progressed at a rate of knots, winning a National League title in between and going within an ace of tripping up Tipperary – when ravaged by injuries – in the All-Ireland semi-final last season.
I well remember Dublin boss, Anthony Daly, in the dressing-room area after that Nowlan Park win in 2010 taking ages – I reminded him about it about a year later – to settle down, to compose himself. He was hyped to the last.
You see, beating Laois at that time was more than an average achievement for Dublin. They were at an early stage in the ‘Daly Development’ process, so to play so well and to register a fine win in a tough, searching contest was a fairly big deal. Not anymore! On Saturday we got a glimpse of the new, powerful hurling unit that is Dublin today!
There was none of that drama or tension from Mr Daly in Tullamore. The manager and players knew from when Liam Rushe bagged the first of his two goals in the 24th minute that the contest was going to be one-sided. At half-time the Dubs led by 3-14 to 1-1.
So, what are we to make of it all?
Semi like an All-Ireland for Dubs
The Graigue-Ballycallan attacker, who has made a great start as a game analyst with RTE, has a fair understanding of the difficulties in the background in Laois because he has strong links with people on the ground there, but even after taking all that into consideration he felt Dublin were now among the real contenders for any and every hurling honour.
“The upcoming semi-final is something like an All-Ireland for Anthony Daly and the Dublin lads,” the eight times All-Ireland medal winner added. “They are talking and thinking fairly big. They are aiming high.
“Don’t let anyone be under any illusions, Dublin are looking at beating Kilkenny. They will take some stopping.
“Dublin are thriving on this thing that they are the only team that is physically capable of putting it up to Kilkenny. That is something they are sticking their chests out about. Anthony Daly will have them well drill and he will tell them they are physically able for Kilkenny. This is going to be a deadly, deadly serious match.”
The fact that the game is being played in Portlaois is another serious factor, Brennan insisted. The exchanges could be very physical, because both teams have men capable of taking and putting in big hits.
Dublin, Brennan continued, have been strengthened considerably by the return after injury of Conal Keaney, Stephen Hiney and Tomas Brady.
Keaney wasn’t spectacular on Saturday, he felt, but he would benefit hugely from the 70 minutes of championship action.
“Hiney was solid enough. It appeared as if he was given the job of marking Willie Hyland first and foremost, and Brady did what he had to do well. It was very hard to make much of the game.
“That match was not much use to Dublin. It was a match they had to get out of the way, and they did it without any complications. The Dublin starting XV is probably as strong as they are going to have.”
Team won’t change much
The starting XV won’t change too much, he thought. The challengers could hardly drop anyone after such an emphatic win, yet they had quality players like Alan McCrabbe and Ryan O’Dwyer waiting to try and get back into the team.
“Dwyer is one lad they might consider bringing in,” Eddie Brennan said.
Brennan’s expressed serious admiration for Dublin on the one hand, and serious concerns about Kilkenny on the other.
The word he had on Cats utility man, Michael Rice was not good. The Carrickshock man was struggling to shake off a knee injury, and with Michael Fennelly also a serious doubt, the Noresiders could be hit hard in a crucial area of the field.
“That is our All-Ireland midfield gone,” Brennan reminded. “That would be a serious, serious blow for any team. For Kilkenny to be able to prepare well is so, so important but with a lot of players injured things can be difficult and complicated.
“Dublin are learning and getting better all the time,” continued the man affectionately known as ‘Fast Eddie’ because of his blistering pace during a 12 season career. “They will look back on last year and think that with a bit more cuteness they could have topped Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.
“Kilkenny will need to be going at full tilt. The injuries are a big worry as far as I am concerned. Who will play at midfield if both the lads are gone? Will T.J. Reid or Richie Power be taken from the forwards and moved into midfield?
Borrow players from
“It looks like someone will have to be borrowed from the attack to fill in at midfield. There are no soft or easy options.”
Meanwhile, Dublin have had their rehearsal. Liam Rushe appears to be working well at full-forward. His has size and strength and loads of hurling to trouble any full-back, according to Brennan.
“Physically he is able for any full-back around,” was Eddie’s summary. “Dublin have a clear run into the semi-final.
“If Dublin get a foothold in the game they will be hard to handle. Look at the way they hung on and hung on against Tipp in the All-Ireland semi last year when they were weakened by injuries. And despite the fact they were relegated in the League, Dublin are a better team now than they were then.”