No matter how long the Laois minor footballers stay in this year’s championship, or where their journey takes them, the memories of their first outing will stay with them for some time.
Barry Kelly 1-5 (0-3 frees), James Finn and Shane McAuley 1-1 each, Emmett Malone (’45), Damien O’Connor and Brendan Hickey 0-1 each
Darren Quinn 1-6 (1-0 penalty, 0-3 frees), Conor Quaine 0-3 (one free), Thomas Kelly, Darren Farrelly, Bernard Crawford (free) and Mark Quinn 0-1 each
They got their campaign off to a winning start in Longford last Saturday to book a quarter-final meeting with Dublin or Louth but it was the fact that they finished the game with 13 players and brilliantly held off a late Longford comeback that pleased most.
Emo’s Shane Murphy and Barrowhouse’s Emmett Malone were both sent off after picking up two yellow cards from the extremely fussy Kildare referee Fergal Barry but the 13 Laois players that remained on the field ensured that Laois travel to Parnell Park on May 23 for a quarter-final showdown with Dublin.
With a minor team it would be foolish to get excited too soon as to how well they’ll possibly go but if they continue to show the spirit they displayed last Saturday then it will take a decent team to see them off. They made some silly mistakes at times in this bizarre championship opener but they played some fine football too.
The half-back line of James Bolton, Sean George and Kieran Delaney were very good; the midfield partnership of Stuart Nerney and Emmett Malone were hugely effective and up front James Finn and Shane McAuley looked dangerous any time they got the ball while Barry Kelly turned in a man-of-the-match performance that started with him getting and goal after just a minute and ended with him setting up Laois’ insurance point.
The management, led by former county player Denis Lalor, deserve credit too. It can’t be easy seeing two of your team sent off for trivial enough discretions but they acted decisively on the line. It was hard on corner-forwards Cathal Whelan and Dale Byrne that they were sacrificed after the red cards but the tough calls were needed for Laois to get through this one.
Murphy got his marching orders five minutes before the break when his over-exuberant challenge on Longford centre-forward Thomas Kelly earned him his second yellow.
At the time Laois led 2-3 to 0-4 following well-taken goals from Barry Kelly and James Finn but Longford were boosted by Murphy’s red card and they tagged on two points before Darren Quinn tucked away a penalty to bring the sides in level at the break, 2-3 to 1-6.
And on a baking hot day Laois faced a daunting challenge in the second half. They were well up for it though. Just like in the opening half, when Barry Kelly’s first-minute goal was the game’s first score, they hit the net again within minutes of the resumption. Kelly’s attempt for a point from a free dropped short in the square but Longford’s John Keegan could only palm the ball down and Laois full-forward Shane McAuley was on to it in a flash to fire home Laois’ third goal.
Kelly added a free to stretch Laois’ lead to four points but with an extra man, Longford were never going to fade away. Darren Quinn and Mark Quinn pointed either side of another effort from Kelly but a brilliantly struck ‘45 from Malone helped keep Laois at a reasonable distance. It wasn’t long, however, before it all looked like unraveling.
The energetic Malone embarked on a powerful run from midfield but, just as he was about to pull the trigger and go for goal, he lost possession. He didn’t give up on the cause though and he lunged at the ball to poke it to the net. The referee awarded a free out which, from a Laois perspective, looked harsh enough; it was nothing to what followed as he adjudged Malone’s effort to get to the ball worthy of a second yellow card. With 12 minutes remaining a Laois side with 13 players were suddenly clinging on to that four-point lead.
Darren Farrelly and Conor Quaine pointed to close the gap to two but Laois remained composed and two more frees from Kelly pushed them four clear again. Yet Longford had their tails up at this stage and they kept coming. Three quick-fire points had the margin back to one but crucially they couldn’t draw level and it was now Laois showed the best characteristics of this team’s personality.
Wing-back Kieran Delaney eased the pressure with a strong run down the left flank and when second-half sub Brendan Hickey got the ball at his feet, he decided to leave it there and he played it soccer-style deep into Longford territory before picking it up and edging Laois two clear with a fine point. And that score was a double whammy in deflating Longford and urging Laois on through the frantic last couple of minutes. Damien O’Connor, another second-half sub, pointed in injury time and suddenly, at last, Laois were safe.
The safety net of the back door is gone now but on the back of such a game, this Laois team should benefit considerably ahead of their Leinster quarter-final.
LAOIS: Dermot Kelly (St Joseph’s); Shane Murphy (Emo), Kieran Booth (The Heath), Adam Ryan (Portarlington); James Bolton (Graiguecullen), Sean George (Mountmellick), Kieran Delaney (Stradbally); Stuart Nerney (Portlaoise), Emmett Malone (Barrowhouse); Ruairi O’Connor (Timahoe), James Finn (Ballyfin), Barry Kelly (O’Dempsey’s); Cathal Whelan (The Heath), Shane McAuley (Portarlington), Dale Byrne (Graiguecullen). Subs: Damien Mullally (The Heath) for Whelan (28 mins), Brendan Hickey (St Joseph’s) for O’Connor (36 mins), Rory Bracken (O’Dempsey’s) for Byrne (49 mins), Damien O’Connor (Timahoe) for Nerney (61 mins)
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum; Patrick Fox, Gary Connell, John Kavanagh; Martin Mulvey, Oisin Farrell, Sean Flynn; John Keegan, Conor Quaine; Conor Keegan, Thomas Kelly, Darren Farrelly; Bernard Crawford, Sean Berry, Darren Quinn. Subs: Mark Quinn for Berry (injured – 25 mins), Adam Cunningham for Farrell (44 mins), Adrian Mcloughlin for Fox (45 mins), Daniel Keenan for McLoughlin (injured – 50 mins), Kyle Fitzmaurice for Farrelly (55 mins)
Referee: Fergal Barry (Kildare)
Main Man – Barry Kelly
There were a number of Laois players who performed well last Saturday but it was the O’Dempsey’s player that led the way.
His free-taking was precise and his contribution in open play was considerable too – his goal in the first minute set the tone while he also chipped in with a couple of nice points
It’s hard to recall any dirty play from Saturday’s game yet Laois still finished the game with just 13 players. Shane Murphy’s over-eager challenge deserved a yellow but as he was already on a yellow card for a harmless foul out the field it meant he had to go. Emmett Malone had even more reason to feel hard done by as his second yellow came about as a result of him trying to poke the ball to the net. It was an extremely harsh call and as he was one of Laois’ most influential performers up to that point, it should have tipped the game back in Longford’s favour. Fortunately, from Laois’ point of view, neither player will serve a suspension and will be available for the next game
Laois play Dublin in the Leinster quarter-final in Parnell Park on May 23. Dublin were comfortable 4-15 to 0-5 winners over Louth last weekend. Should Laois win that they’ll also have to travel for the semi-final which is scheduled for June 27 against one of the six teams that come through the qualifier system. All six teams beaten last weekend - Louth, Wicklow, Carlow, Kilkenny, Offaly and Longford - go into the qualifiers with two teams emerging from that section to play each other in the quarter-final. The winner of that game will then play the winners of Laois and Dublin at home. The other quarter-final games are Meath V Westmeath and Kildare V Wexford.
By Steven Miller
- Leinster Express