Laois 0-10 Longford 0-9
LAOIS won but they did so with a performance which in manager Justin McNulty’s own words, would see Dublin “obliterate” them if repeated against Pat Gilroy’s men in the quarter-final.
No doubt the renowned sports psychologist was indulging in a spot of mind games but to be fair to him, he wasn’t that far off the mark.
McNulty didn’t spare his players afterwards and promised there would be a lot of introspection in the next week.
“The performance leaves an awful lot to be desired” stated the Armagh man.
“It leaves us with major areas to work on for the next day. We know we’re up against it big time the next day against a team that are serious All-Ireland contenders. We’re under no illusions but that we have to make massive improvements.
“A number of players need to look very closely at their performances and ask ‘why didn’t I give more? why did I not play at a higher level today?’. They have to look seriously at themselves and question ‘how did we not perform at the level we expected to perform with the amount of preparation that’s gone in?’. We have to get that correct the next day or otherwise Dublin will obliterate Laois.”
He continued to pile the plaudits on the Dubs with a straight face saying he would be happy if Laois could just give them a game.
“It’s a very different scenario now. We’re going into a match where absolutely nothing is expected. Dublin are going to be expected to trounce us and that’s obvious given their form. They’re a team of serious All-Ireland pedigree. They’ve been knocking on the door for the last number of years. So for us to go and compete with them alone, we’d be happy to do that.
“They’ll be raging, red-hot favourites and I guess it’s a no-lose scenario for us. There’ll be no pressure, no expectation. Our lads will just go out and play without fear, without inhibition and have a go.”
He did feel that winning with a display like that was a testament to the players’ character but in the opposite corner, Glenn Ryan was wincing at the mention of his side’s 16 wides.
“When you’re beaten by a point it’s a stat that stands out” said Ryan.
“You could sense it in the first-half but when you’re creating chances you’re always hopeful that if you create the same chances again you’ll take them. It’s a game we could have won but unfortunately we couldn’t go through with it.”
To be fair, Laois did spurn some gilt-edged goal opportunities, blazing three chances wide, while Colm Begley drove a shot straight at Damien Sheridan.
But Longford created some wonderful chances. Sean McCormack opted to chip over and in front of the posts with only Eoin Culliton to beat and Martin Brady flashed over.
Laois, and particularly Billy Sheehan, began strongly, setting up Daithí Carroll for a point and driving over two more. Brian Kavanagh got Longford off the mark with a free and by the second quarter, Ryan’s charges were knocking the favourites back.
The otherwise quiet Michael John Tierney hit a glorious effort but a brace of points from Sean McCormack increased Longford’s optimism. Carroll brought his tally to three to give Laois a 0-6 to 0-4 interval lead but Longford were level when Bernard McElvaney and McCormack converted.
Significantly though Laois raised three white flags from the 51st to the 61st minutes with Carroll, Niall Donoher and Ross Munnelly (free) pushing them clear.
David Barden kept driving Longford forward and McCormack converted two frees. But the wides kept totting up on both sides before Donoher kicked a crucial score.
Kavanagh curled over a wonderful point in the 67th minute to leave home supporters biting their finger nails once again but they just couldn’t find the equaliser.
Scorers for Laois: D Carroll 0-4 (1f), N Donoher, B Sheehan 0-2 each, MJ Tierney, R Munnelly (f) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Longford: S McCormack 0-5 (2fs), B Kavanagh 0-2 (1f), B McElvaney (f), M Brady 0-1 each.
Subs for Laois: K Lillis for Tierney (45), D Kingston for Sheehan (56), C Boyle for Strong (61), P Clancy for Munnelly (70).
Subs for Longford: F McGee for Dowd (45), P Foy for Mulligan (54), J O’Shea for Brady (61), D Masterson for Farrell (61).
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).
By Daragh Ó Conchúir, Irish Examiner423