‘These are the days you dream of’ - Laois stun Dublin
Joe McDonagh Cup winners pull off a huge upset to set up quarter-final against Tipp
Laois’ Ryan Mullaney celebrates after his team’s win over Dublin. Photograph: Inpho
Laois 1-22 Dublin 0-23
Afterwards a middle aged Laois man turned to his son: “We are used to tears on this pitch, not smiles. Look around you.”
Everyone was beaming.
“Pure and utter ecstasy,” went Laois goalkeeper Enda Rowland. “These are the days you dream of. This is why we play the game.”
Dublin showed up. Honestly, they came ready for a tussle before progress. They lacked the intensity that brought a premature end to Galway’s summer but they understood the rules of engagement.
They were simply out hurled, out hustled and while the likes of Seán Moran and Danny Sutcliffe maintained almost regal composure when surrounded by wildly swinging ravenous foes, it wasn’t enough.
And maybe it never will be.
“There’s an element of responsibility between the players and the management today,” Mattie Kenny the rookie Dublin manager attempted to explain. “That was an unacceptable performance from our group. And we know that. The problem is, it’s too f***ing late now.
“It’s a disappointing way to finish the season for us. Laois put up great fight there. They had great hunger.”
Decades of tears.
Laois beat them fair and square by raining scores early and often.
They had a goal by Aaron Dunphy - born purely from Willie Dunphy’s refusal to quit on a rolling sliotar - with nine minutes clocked. They had points from six other men come half-time. They will forever remember glorious efforts off the sticks of Ross King and Jack Kelly.
Mark Kavanagh, phenomenal from placed ball, was braveness incarnate until forced off the field in agony.
Here was Laois hurling in full bloom, and only five days after they stopped drinking in celebration of the Joe McDonagh Cup success, with each man battling like Eddie Brennan’s Kilkenny used to.
“Two or three of them went down injured,” Brennan, the other rookie manager, smiled. “Lee Cleere is brilliant like that. He’d be in a heap on the ground and Niall Corcoran would go into him and he’d go ‘I’m not coming off.’ Niall would go ‘he’s grand’ and he’d be down again.
“That spirit, that refusal to listen to your legs, to listen to your body because your head is just so powerful; it convinced the lads to keep going when the need is the most and your body is screaming out at you not to.”
Dublin always seemed like they would gradually reel in the initial six point deficit. They would feel their way into the game.
And so the contest appeared to turn when the towering Kilmacud Crokes forward Ronan Hayes struck two quality points midway through the first half. Eamon Dillon made it three on the bounce after snatching possession off John Lennon.
Imagine all the Laois people going silent at this moment. Strangely, the tide never turned. Kavanagh and Ross King rattled off mighty scores and Dillon had a clear sight of goal denied by the cat-like reflexes of Rowland in the Laois nets.
Patience proved Dublin’s fake comrade when thunderous madness was needed.
Rowland would prove the hero of all heroes. The goalie posted two phenomenal frees from long range.
“Massive,” said Brennan. “Enda has been a key player for us like all goalies are nowadays. He’s a great character too. A lot of the guys look up to him. He takes his job really seriously. With him we have a quarter back that gives us a good platform to go forward.
“He popped up with a monster point when we really needed it. No more than any of them, they deserve that, they are mighty men.”
Sutcliffe and Conal Keaney - Dublin’s mightiest figures - did find their range before the turn but Laois were roared under the stand with a five point lead.
Dublin’s free taker Oisín O’Rorke did his best for the local cause. He hit three frees early in the second half. One was given as a point - although it looked wide from the press box - and the other two were not even close.
Then Willie Dunphy smashed a point from miles out and the crowd could be heard all across the midlands. Dublin were blowing this. Ruining a season that promised so much.
“Laois, Laois, Laois” came rising chorus as Dunphy then Kavanagh kept them four points clear.
Dublin turned to Sutcliffe who powered the sliotar towards the top corner but Rowland made the save of his life. O’Rorke clipped over the resulting 65. Three point game. Make that a two point game, with 15 minutes to play, as O’Rorke rediscovered his scoring swing. Make that a single score after Sutcliffe’s second point of the evening.
Laois were visibly flagging. Dublin, who never once took the lead, levelled matters through O’Rorke as Jack Kelly swallowed a yellow card.
There followed the heroic rise of a quiet hurling county. Willie Dunphy calmed nerves with a lovely point before a Kavanagh free put them two clear once more. Aaron Dunphy made it a three point lead as the unusually anonymous Keaney was replaced by Paul Ryan.
Willie Dunphy made it a four point lead with seven minutes to play.
That’s when the Laois crowd blew a gasket. This was really happening.
Dublin needed a goal but with nothing to aim at inside they had to work their way up field. Dark blue jerseys bashed and bumped them for every inch.
Moran had a late look at goal but extra-time would have been cruel on Laois. No Croke Park for Dublin hurlers this summer.
“Our preparation went really well but sport is funny,” said Kenny.
“You have to make sure that outside influences don’t seep into the guys’ minds. A lot of people were writing about ‘Dublin are playing Tipperary’. That was being disrespectful to Laois. The best team won on the day.”
Laois: E Rowland (0-2, frees); L Cleere, M Whelan, J Phelan; J Kelly (0-1), R Mullaney, P Delaney; J Lennon, P Purcell (0-1); A Dunphy (1-2), M Kavanagh (0-9, seven frees, 65), E Lyons; W Dunphy (0-4), C Dwyer (0-2), R King (0-1). Substitutions: C Phelan for J Kelly (57 mins), E Killeen for P Delaney (58 mins), S Bergin for R King (63 mins), E Haughan for Kavanagh (69 mins).
Dublin: A Nolan; P Smyth, S Barrett, D O’Connell; C Crummy, S Moran (0-1 free), J Madden; S Treacy, T Connolly; C Keaney (0-1), D Sutcliffe (0-2), C Boland (0-3); O O’Rorke (0-12, 0-10 frees), R Hayes (0-2), E Dillon (0-1). Substitutions: F Whitely for S Treacy (52 mins), P Ryan (0-1, free) for C Keaney (57 mins), J Hetherton for C Boland 64 mins).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway).