NEITHER the scent of freshly cut grass nor a whiff of cordite in the air around Jones’ Road as the 2020 All-Ireland Championships began – finally - tonight in an eerily empty Croke Park.
The upshot of the match was Dublin beating Laois by 14 points to tee up a shot at Kilkenny in the Leinster SFC semi-final here again next Sunday.
But there was something more than a little symbolic about the inter-county Championships beginning as the country settled uneasily into its second lockdown in seven months.
The expectation was that Dublin would come with the scent of revenge for last year’s excruciating defeat to Eddie Brennan’s team in their nostrils.
Then, they arrived in Portlaoise elevated by a powerful victory over Galway in the last round of the Leinster SHC only to see their season ended in unexpected and sickening circumstances.
On the contrary. Their demeanour – and their hurling - was composed and disciplined last night.
Even in the second half, as Laois rained over long range points and briefly threatened to give Dublin a gut check, they held their composure and resorted to method.
Given their inauspicious League campaign earlier this year, Mattie Kenny’s team may be one of the few to actually benefit from the timing of the sporting shutdown.
His players looked fresh and for the most part, focused.
Chief among them was Donal Burke. The Na Fianna forward wasn’t in Portloaise last year, having opted out of the squad to spend a summer hurling in America.
Here, he added some craft and creativity to the Dublin attack, the sort of classy option the team has been lacking. Burke assumed free-taking duties also and his striking was near impeccable
His goal after 27 minutes gave Dublin the separation from Laois they had been hinting at in the game to that point.
From a ruck, where two separate huddles of players failed to control the ball, Burke emerged and headed straight for goal.
He veered left to avoid a tackle and tucked a shot off his stick beyond Enda Rowland into the Hill 16 end goal.
That put Dublin seven points up. Six was as close as Laois came between that moment and the end of the game.
They scored some excellent long-range points, not least through Paddy Purcell, Aaron Dunphy and a couple of enormous frees from Enda Rowland in the second-half.
But they never threatened to get inside Dublin and carve out the goal they needed to pull off a second Championship shock in two years.
Dublin started with two Championship debutants., Conor Burke – who primarily played as a spare man in defence – and full-forward Davy Keogh, who added some bustle to that line.
The most interesting selection, however, was that of Chris Crummey as a forward.
He scored three points, offered himself incessantly as a puck-out option and on several occasions, turned over Laois in their own half.
But Burke, who finished with 1-16 and scored 13 from 14 placed ball, was a revelation.
In the end, they held Laois at a stretch until Eamonn Dillon’s goal finished the game in emphatic fashion, leaving Dublin with an impressive tally of 2-31.
It wasn’t a performance likely to change their status as outsiders for Kilkenny next week, but who knows how dangerous a Dublin team with a bit of confidence might be.
SCORERS – Dublin: D Burke 1-16 (11f, 2 ’65), E Dillon 1-1, C Crummey 0-3, C Burke, R McBride, D Sutcliffe, C Boland 0-2 each, S Moran, D Keogh, M Schutte 0-1 each. Laois: R King 0- 10 (9f, 1 ’65), S Maher, A Dunphy, E Rowland (2f), P Purcell 0-2 each, P Delaney, R Mullaney, F Fennell, J Kelly, J Ryan 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: A Nolan; P Smyth, E O’Donnell, J Madden; C Burke, D Gray, C O’Callaghan; S Moran, R McBride; C Boland, D Burke, D Sutcliffe; C Crummey, R Hayes, D Keogh. Subs: L E Dillon for Hayes (50), L Rushe for Crummey (56), J Malone for Gray (61), M Schutte for Boland (68), S Barrett for Moran (72)
LAOIS: E Rowland; D Hartnett, R Broderick, L Cleere; P Delaney, R Mullaney, F Fennell; P Purcell, S Downey; J Keyes, A Dunphy, J Ryan; R King, S Maher, W Dunphy. Subs: J Kelly for Cleere (33 inj), C McEvoy for Broderick (37 inj), M Kavanagh for Keyes (h-t), C Phelan for Mullally (51), E Gaughan for Maher (68)
REF: P O’Dwyer (Carlow)