THIS minor football team don’t make it easy on their supporters leaving them living on their nerves at the finish for a two-point victory after a contest they seemed to be cruising in.
The margin did not do them justice in the end but they would take anything in a game against the defending champions for a spot in an all-Ireland semi-final.
While Laois turned on the style in the second half and opened up a six-point lead, having been level on six occasions previously, Roscommon could have made it more difficult had they availed of a couple of clear-cut goal chances and not lost the influential Donie Shine early in the second half.
Once again this Laois team relied on the John O’Loughlin, Donie Kingston and Conor Meredith to make and take the scores and while they were all outstanding it has to be a worrying factor against better teams to come that only two of the six starting forwards actually scored.
If two of the threesome were injured or off form on the same day then this team could be in real trouble. That may seem pessimistic in the extreme but on Saturday they carried the team up front when the entire half-forward line were not in the game.
In defence Zach Touhy and Robbie Kehoe were outstanding but Roscommon were given an amount of scoring opportunities and learned a lot as a unit from this stern test.
John O’Loughlin was magnificent and arguably gave his best display in a year at both minor and under 21 level. He was the dominant figure at mid-field throughout and while scoring two superb points from play his second-half display when he fielded nine kick-outs was on par with the best delivered by any Laois player at this level in the past 12 years.
Never before has a Laois minor had such an impact on one particular game. It was obvious from the start the Roscommon midfield partnership was a formidable one but once again as in almost all of the championship games this year it was also obvious that O’Loughlin was solo in the battle against them in the middle.
This is his fourth year playing minor inter-county at both codes and the experience showed when leadership was needed proved to be the difference. When his side were struggling to gain a foothold in the opening half he fielded a kickout and played a one two with Conor Meredith to give Laois the lead for the first time.
Again in the second half when the sides were level at 0-7 each he put Laois into the lad with a powerful run and a superb point down the wing and he won bountiful possession in the middle throughout.
Conor Meredith and Donie Kingston may not have been as impressive as previous games but they still played hugely influential roles in this victory. Conor, after his three-goal heroics in the Leinster final, never got a sniff at one on Saturday but his pass to Donie Kingston was just magnificent. He was seen to best effect when moved out to the half-forward line in the second half and I still believe both he and Kingston should be played in the central positions up front.
Donie is carrying a groin injury severely hampering his mobility and the management decided to play him at corner forward. Once in the second half he tracked back up field and when he went down heavily gasps of horror could be heard from the Laois supporters. He is too valuable near the posts to be exposed to possibly aggravating his injury too far away from it.
His goal had it been shown on the Sunday Game would be a contender for goal cutting past two players and releasing an unstoppable shot past the Roscommon goalie.
The goalie was lucky it did go past him as it could have done serious damage had he made contact with it!
O’Loughlin, Meredith and Kingston are serious minor footballers and real prospects for the future. It is fair to say that any or all three would have walked onto this year’s senior team in different circumstances but they will all have to be minded and nurtured to fulfil their potential.
None of the other five players that started from midfield up could be happy with their displays. Damien Lowry was given his chance but while he had a decent second half he didn’t grab the opportunity with both hands and y seems to have more to offer. He has the size and with this game under his belt should have the confidence to give it socks in the semi-final.
Brian Smith was on fire in the early part of the championship but his game seemed to suffer after he was sent off in the minor hurling and certainly he hasn’t been as assertive since.
Sean Ramsbottom is better than he has been and there is still a lot more in the captain.
Having come back from a long injury last year he needs to work now on his speed and be more decisive.
James Doyle and Eddie Kelly ran all day and got into good positions but didn’t always get the ball that their efforts deserved and often took the wrong options when in possession.
Robbie Kehoe and Zach Touhy were the outstanding defenders on view. Touhy is playing superb football and apart from his fielding, passing and attacking he landed two superb 45-metre frees and they were real bonus points - and in fact the difference at the finish.
While one would be loath to move him from wing back the selectors could well consider moving him to midfield on his current form.
Kehoe, as he does, took the game by storm and when moved to mark a player more his own size at centre back was seen to best effect. Very much in the Joe Higgins mould of player he inspires his team mates and supporters alike when he wins balls at speed and races out of defence.
Kieran Lillis, Joe Mulhare and Conor Boyle all had fine games while Joe O’Connor carried a shoulder injury into the game and was not obviously at his brilliant best.
This was a good display but probably not good enough to beat Cork or Derry in the semi final - a message delivered clearly in the Laois dressing room afterwards by the Roscommon manager.
The prize is a great one and they have to give it everything in their bodies to win it as they will get only one opportunity to do so!
© The Nationalist
Filed under: Laois Football