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GAELIC FOOTBALL: CROKER CHOKER FOR DUBS; DUBLIN 0-14 LAOIS 0-16: Micko leads Laois to promised land of a Leinster final.

Byline: Jackie Cahill

HE'S been in the game for half a century but Mick O'Dwyer still hasn't lost the element of surprise and unpredictability that marks him out as the greatest manager of all time.

Dublin were his latest victims - the capital stars entered Croke Park yesterday as provincial champions but left with egos badly dented.

The back door now awaits Dublin as they go in search of a first All Ireland title since 1995.

But while the Dubs figure out their next move, Laois march onto a first Leinster final since 1991.

They haven't won Leinster since 1946 but they'll never have a better chance than July 20 back at HQ.

Kildare are the opponents, a team O'Dwyer knows only too well.

Micko led the Lilywhites to last year's final against Dublin. Funny how the roundabout works sometimes.

Dublin boss Tommy Lyons rued missed chances. Shooting practice is sure to form a core part of this week's training.

Sixteen wides in total, 10 in the first half plus three glorious goal chances wasted hints at profligacy.

"They were going in last year," Lyons groaned afterwards.

Nine minutes had elapsed when Alan Brogan struck an upright at the Canal End.

The ball bounced down to Ray Cosgrove - the most lethal attacker in the country last year - but his shot was blocked by Colm Byrne threw his frame in the way.

After 27 minutes Fergal Byron kept out O'hEineachain and Brogan also kicked a horrible wide only seconds later.

And two minutes into first half stoppage time Byron excelled again, getting down to beat out a shot from Tom Mulligan.

The Dubs got a run going in the second half but couldn't get level.

Two points was as close as they got and Laois showed real character to hit back with some super scores when it mattered most.

O'Dwyer said: "Laois always had good footballers - but things just didn't happen.

"I suppose there's a little bit of luck following me around the country and I have a little bit of know-how, having been around for 50 years!"

O'Dwyer praised the contribution of full forward Damien Delaney who ran himself to a standstill while chipping in with 0-4.

Three of those were from frees and he stayed cool with Dublin jeers ringing in his ears.

Out of the 57,615 crowd that turned up at Croker, at least 40,000 were Dubs.

With Hill 16 out of commission due to the Special Olympics, the hardcore headed for the Canal End.

And they made their feelings known whenever a Laois player stepped up to take a free.

"I told them that was going to happen," O'Dwyer added.

"It's not a part of the game that I like, the place kicker should have silence," he insisted.

Praising Delaney - or Goggy as he is known to teammates - O'Dwyer added: "Goggy - the elder statesman - showed us the way today.

"He kicked some mighty points from frees and when he had it done, he put up his hand to tell us to send in a substitute.

"That's the stuff and that's what this Laois team is made up of."

Midfielder Pauric Clancy typified it. The Timahoe man - all 6'6" of him - was immense in the middle of the field.

He kicked a point in each half - a monstrous score five minutes from time was the score of the game.

Noel Garvan was solid as a rock alongside Clancy in midfield as they overpowered Ciaran Whelan and Darren Magee.

The normally inspirational Whelan tried to lift things but it just didn't happen for the skipper.

For Dublin Paddy Christie gave an exhibition in full-back play while Barry Cahill and Paul Griffin were solid enough in the corners.

But after that it started to fall apart. Liam Og O hEineachain had a debut he'll want to forget at left corner forward for Dublin and he was called ashore at half time.

But it would be unfair to single out the Kilmacud Crokes man for criticism. In truth, Dublin misfired everywhere.

At the back Laois held firm, Tom Kelly was immense at centre-half back, charging upfield whenever the opportunity presented itself and winning crucial frees.

"I keep telling everybody that we over-achieved last year," said Lyons. "We still have an awful lot of learning to do.

"We won a Leinster championship last year because I felt we were the hungriest team in Leinster.

"This year there's no doubt Laois and Kildare are hungrier than the rest of us and that's why they're in a Leinster final.

"But it's a difficult process. We'll keep working but we took bad options at times against Laois and that's what happens when you're chasing a game."

Dublin were chasing the game from the 25th minute on despite getting off to the perfect start with a superb 50-yard point from Cosgrove after just 23 seconds.

The sides were level three times before Clancy put Laois 0-5 to 0-4 ahead - and it was a lead they never relinquished.

A Damien Delaney free had them 0-6 to 0-4 ahead at the break and they opened with four of the first five scores of the second period.

Then Dublin finally sparked into life. Points from Tomas Quinn, Tom Mulligan and Shane Ryan cut the gap to two.

But just as thoughts wandered to the possibility of a fightback, Dubs fans were forced to see Laois regain the initiatice.

Laois hit back with three on the trot, one of them a superb Mick Lawlor point from the tighest of angles.

It was tit-for-tat as Dublin battled into the breeze and made no real headway in search of a crucial goal.

They got the gap back to two points two minutes into stoppage time - but time ran out and Laois could celebrate a first championship victory over the Metropolitans in 22 years.

CAPTION(S):

WE'VE DONE IT: Fergal Byron and Tom Kelly of Laois celebrate; NO WAY: McDonald stops Paddy Christie of Dublin; LYONS DEN: Tommy Lyons and Laois boss Mick O''Dwyer; KNEESY DOES IT: Tom Kelly is tackled by Darren M<agee
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 16, 2003
Words:1013
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