Dublin, with a 0-14 to 0-13 victory, are the 2005 Leinster champions after a thrilling second-half that was not decided until the very last kick of this titanic struggle with a valiant Laois in Croke Park today.
The game started with the Dubs in swashbuckling form. Early confusion in the Laois backline resulted in the opening point from Conal Keaney. Tomás Quinn increased the score with one point from free and one from play before a very insightful Jason Sherlock ball allowed Brian Cullen in to point.
Meanwhile, Laois were struggling and only a solitary kick from Chris Conway – albeit a huge one which should really have inspired his teammates to greater efforts – split the posts within the first ten minutes.
Dublin were masters in midfield and Laois were finding it difficult to get into the rhythm of their running game as Shane Ryan and Ciaran Whelan mopped-up every ball that found its way into midfield and fed them to delighted Dublin forwards, which included a Jason Sherlock whose play was terrorising the Laois backs and surely giving them fodder for many a future nightmare.
However, even at that early stage, the Dubs were showing a profligacy that was undermining the incredible dominance they were exerting all over the pitch. A wide by Alan Brogan in the second minute was followed by equally kickable wides by Keaney, whose free ricocheted back off the upright.
However, Laois were having a tough time even finding the space to kick wide and on ten minutes a white-booted Ross Munnelly displayed just how little space Laois were getting when he was forced out onto the sideline and his desperation pass found its way easily into a pair of Dublin hands and back up the field where Sherlock jinked past three men to stick the ball over the bar.
But every Dublin chance seem to be followed by two bad misses. An incisive run by Brogan cut the Laois backs apart once again but the Dublin forward failed to convert the chance with the point seemingly the easier option.
Laois, too, were missing chances as Chris Conway attempted to repeat his earlier score and perhaps rouse his team-mates. The chance, however, went badly wide. The poor marksmanship on both sides continued as a clash between Colman Goggins and Ross Munnelly resulted in a card for Goggins and a missed free for Munnelly.
On twenty minutes Paddy Christie was forced off having struggled for a few minutes with an injury, to be replaced by Peadar Andrews.
With so many quality forwards, especially the misfiring Laois men, on the pitch, it was easy to forget that the game had been billed as a potential classic, but Cullen’s point on twenty minutes gave the fans a taste of the action that was to come as he got on the end of some fine play on the right-hand side and embarked on a strong run before stroking over the bar.
It was followed by a mazy Ross Munnelly run which resulted in a foul and a free that Chris Conway shot straight into the Hill. The scoreboard would have told a vastly different story than the patterns of play on the pitch; though Dublin were clearly in absolute control, there was only four points between the sides, with Dublin having missed six out of their twelve efforts on goal. This wasn’t lost on the Dubs and they seemed to redouble their efforts and yet another flowing move up the pitch found its way through Jason Sherlock and sailed over the bar from O’Shaughnessy’s boot.
With the point scored, Dublin lapsed again and Alan Brogan and Jason Sherlock missed a chance each.
On 28 minutes Laois were forced into a substitution as Barry Brennan suffered an injury and was replaced by his namesake Donie. Brennan was clearly fired up for the game and within three minutes of coming onto the pitch received a yellow card for swinging on his opponent for a harmless shoulder.
Stephen Cluxton was called upon twice on the half-hour mark as Laois attempted to turn the game around by hitting the net. Some incisive forward play stunned the Dublin backs and Chris Conway found himself with only Cluxton to beat. But the Dublin keeper spread himself well and must have been thankful that Conway drove the ball at a comfortable height for him to parry. Less than a minute later Donie Brennan’s kick inside found Munnelly whose attempted fist was impeded by Cluxton, who once again sprinted off the line to ensure that the Laois man could not direct the ball into the net.
With the half-time whistle looming, Dublin continued to spurn good point chances as Mossy Quinn missed three placed balls in the space of three minutes to leave the scores at 0-07 to 0-03 at the interval.
Mick O’Dwyer’s team-talk would surely have melted the paint off the walls and his charges emerged in the second-half desperate to erase the memories of the dreadful first-half performance.
Donie Brennan was continuing his Trojan work and when the ball squeezed out of a rugby-style ruck, he was on hand to narrow the gap for Laois.
Munnelly, who had been fairly quiet for most of the first-half, began to use the space out wide to devastating effect, knocking over Laois’ second of the half. A Padraig Clancy-run through the Dublin back lines unsettled his opponents and, when he seemed to throw himself on the ball having lost control of it, he was awarded a free which Munnelly had no difficulty in converting.
Meanwhile, Dublin’s nerves appeared to be shot and when Tomás Quinn was given a free almost directly in front of the Hill he missed it; the Dubs seemed to be shutting down and going into terminal decline.
Chris Conway then stepped up to knock over two points – one from a free, the other from great work by Ross Munnelly – the second of which tied the game at seven points apiece. Dublin, who were surely ruing all the missed chances in the first-half, had created nothing of note in the first ten minutes of the second.
With fifty minutes of the game gone, Dublin managed to string together a good series of passes which Brian Cullen finished with a sweet point. But Laois were definitely in control and they shrugged off two bad misses by Chris Conway and Donie Brennan to drag the game back to level-scores with a fantastic Noel Garvan point from almost the half-way point.
With twenty minutes left, it seemed like the game had finally blossomed into the competition between to equally gifted sides, and for the next few minutes there was a tremendous battle for the lead. Ciaran Whelan finally got his traditional point from midfield and Alan Brogan capitalised on some slack marking in the Laois backline when Sherlock’s shot had been blocked down. Then Laois dragged them back with Munnelly converting a free, grabbing a punch-out by Cluxton to stick it over the bar, and finding Donie Brennan from the sideline to give the substitute the chance to knock over an excellent point.
Brennan soon returned the favour as his wonderful little soccer flick found Munnelly whose trickery opened up enough space between two Dublin forwards to allow him to slice the ball over the bar to send his side into the lead. The advantage was soon doubled as Chris Conway split the posts.
The Dubs, who seemed shell-shocked when Ciaran Whelan’s next long-range effort was nowhere near the posts, were dragged back into the game by a solid Collie Moran point before they were awarded a dubious free which Mossy Quinn made no mistake with.
With the game level, the two sides exhausted and many players suffering from cramp, it was announced that there would be five extra minutes. The noise from the stands increased as Sherlock embarked on an ambitious solo run on the Laois end-line. He was tackled by Ross Munnelly, who slapped the ball out of his hands only to see it spill out over the line for a Dublin forty-five. With four minutes remaining and a less-than-confident Mossy Quinn standing over the ball and staring into a sea of expectant faces on the Hill, it seemed as if the gods of free-taking were out to taunt the Dubs again. But Quinn struck the ball better than he had done throughout the game and edged Dublin into a one-point lead.
Laois threw everything they had at the champions-elect. Intent on covering every inch of grass in Croke Park, Ross Munnelly was soon at the other end of the field trying to make amends for giving away the forty-five. When he hit the deck, the referee deemed it a free and it seemed as if the game would be brought level again and go to a replay. Munnelly performed his usual pre-kick routine, side-stepping and jogging forward five or six steps, before driving the ball agonisingly wide. The noise on the Hill ratcheted up another few decibels.
The miss was a crushing psychological blow and Munnelly was clearly still thinking about it when he received the ball from a team-mate with some space to work in, but the ball slipped out of his hands and was cleared up the field. Laois fought tigerishly to get it back and the ball found Chris Kelly whose despairing shot sailed just wide of the post, handing Dublin the Delaney Cup.