Powerful Dublin to squeeze Laois
GAELIC GAMES:THE MOST eagerly-awaited GAA All-Ireland football quarter-finals weekend begins this evening with champions Dublin topping the bill in Croke Park. Fears that the weekend could in fact turn out to be a disappointment take this match as a starting point.
Some of the reaction to the pairing has been dismissive of – if not at times disrespectful to – Laois but evidence-based assumptions are often insensitive as well as accurate.
Quarter-finals between fellow provincials are always a bit of a disappointment given the more exotic options available but there’s no doubt that this suits Dublin. A year ago with all of the insecurities of not having won the All-Ireland swirling around Pat Gilroy’s team needed a tough draw to give themselves traction.
Now with Sam Maguire on the sideboard, it’s as much as the Dublin manager could have wished for that their potential path to next month be as smooth as possible. In other words get to the final and have the season’s biggest match in the final with all the cards on the table.
By contrast Laois are in recovery after a championship that started horrendously with defeat by Longford. The qualifiers haven’t required them to cut a swathe through the country but going into last week’s match against Meath they were outsiders and acquitted themselves well enough.
Reaching the last eight in August – the modern definition of being one of the season’s elite – must have seemed a far-off aspiration last May but Justin McNulty’s side have realised it and to that extent have achieved what they might reasonably have been hoped to.
Even were they to beat the champions, it would be looked on more as a favour to other contenders than as the arrival of a new one.
Laois have their merits. They are fit, physical and centred on a strong diamond between centre back, centrefield and centre forward.
John O’Loughlin anchors the defence in what is probably his best position whereas AFL alumni Brendan Quigley and Colm Begley have been one of the best centrefield combinations in the championship to date. Pádraig Clancy’s customary move to centre forward may reduce the early ball option to the edge of the square where he was proving an accomplished target man at full forward but this greater involvement has benefited the attack and supplemented ball winning capacity around the middle.
League matches come with their own health warnings but the positives for Laois are that they were frequently competitive when the counties met five months ago; the negatives are that they never really looked like winning and that Dublin were virtually a shadow team (five of this evening’s selection as against 13 for Laois), short five of their six All Stars.