Thursday 25 May 2017

Laois struggle to align power with panache

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Justin McNulty will know that, in any walk of life, you can't please all of the people all of the time.

But in Laois, where he has been busy over the last eight months reorganising the affairs of the football team, the level of pessimism must be a little hard to fathom.

They are, after all, winning games on a regular basis. Shouldn't that be enough? Isn't that what the game is all about.

Promotion from Division 2 of the league and advancement to the quarter-finals of the provincial championship, however, have been tempered by the style of football the team has played to achieve that progress.

The balance between a less defensive orientation and results has yet to be achieved and, for now, there are too many in Laois who just aren't taken by what they have seen.

Few, if any, can see anything other than a comprehensive defeat on Sunday from a Dublin team that is operating at a different level.

Even McNulty sounded strong words of caution in the aftermath of their narrow escape against Longford last week.

The team's longest-serving player, Ross Munnelly, picked up on that theme with a call to his colleagues for a marked improvement or else face serious consequences.

"We're under no illusions that we have to pick it up for the next day. Our performance against Longford won't be nearly good enough to beat Dublin," he admitted.

"They are genuine All-Ireland contenders, they're a top-class team. They've done a lot of work with Pat Gilroy. It's going to be a massive test for a young Laois team."

The perception of a style of play differs greatly from the dressing-room to the street.

The man on the street calls it negative, defensive, but press Munnelly about it and he talks of players working harder.

"The way we are playing at the moment everyone is working hard to a man. We're happy with how we are going, we had a good league campaign, we are up in Division 1 next year, which will place a huge challenge to us."

Munnelly and Paraic Clancy are now the only survivors from Laois' last championship success over Dublin in 2003. Ironically, seven Dublin players that day -- Stephen Cluxton, Alan Brogan, Barry Cahill, Paul Casey, Paul Griffin, Bryan Cullen and Mossie Quinn -- are still involved, perhaps illustrating the huge player drain there has been in Laois over the last decade.

Does Munnelly, who had made his championship debut in the previous game against Offaly that year, feel a sense of 'lost' years for the county in the time that has elapsed?

Higher

"I suppose there is that sense, but every county believes that they should be competing higher. You must remember we are a small county, we have produced a number of good underage teams. Maybe the performances haven't reflected the amount of work that we have done."

What Munnelly can guarantee is that Dublin will face a Laois team that feels physically more empowered that it possibly ever has going into a championship.

Even his own body shape contrasts sharply now from the slim kid who caught Micko's eye eight years ago.

"The work that we have done this year has been more intense, more specialised with Barry Solan (Mayo's strength and conditioning coach under John O'Mahony). He's excellent at what he does. Power-wise you would have seen, since last year, how a number of players have strengthened-up considerably.

"But we're still playing catch-up, there are teams at that level of strength and conditioning for a number of years. This is our first year, at the end of the day it comes down to football ability. We'd be hoping that if we can get a performance against Dublin, we can be in the game with 10 minutes to go."

It's about as much as they can realistically hope for.

Irish Independent

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