Monday 25 September 2017

McMahon strike turns tide for Laois

Laois 3-13 Carlow 0-12

Carlow's Brian Murphy comes under pressure from Paul Begley (left) and Eoin Culliton of Laois during the first round All-Ireland SFC qualifier at Dr Cullen Park last night.
Carlow's Brian Murphy comes under pressure from Paul Begley (left) and Eoin Culliton of Laois during the first round All-Ireland SFC qualifier at Dr Cullen Park last night.
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Carlow had the distinction of staging the first ever Friday evening All-Ireland senior football championship game but the honour of winning it went to Laois, who produced a highly efficient second-half performance in Dr Cullen Park.

Carlow had the distinction of staging the first ever Friday evening All-Ireland senior football championship game but the honour of winning it went to Laois, who produced a highly efficient second-half performance in Dr Cullen Park.

They outscored Carlow by 2-9 to 0-4 in the second period to book a place in the second round of the qualifiers and raise hopes of a repeat of last year's splendid run, which took them all the way to the All-Ireland quarter-final.

While Laois were understandably pleased to have put the grim memory of their Leinster first-round defeat by Louth behind them, there will be satisfaction too in the Croke Park corridors of power at the attendance of 4,606 for the first venture into Friday evening championship action.

SPRINTED

It was 2,137 more than last year when the counties clashed in a first-round qualifier in Portlaoise so, clearly, the public bought into the occasion. So too did the Carlow players early on when they sprinted from the starting blocks to open up a four-point lead in the first five minutes.

Their movement – on and off the ball – was very impressive as they used the stiff wind to build up a momentum which Laois found difficult to cope with. It took Laois nine minutes to hoist their first point and they didn't manage a second score for a further 11 minutes.

However, it was noticeable that Laois were gradually establishing superiority at midfield, where captain John O'Loughlin and Padraig Clancy won lots of possession which they used well.

Still, Carlow's lead performer Brendan Murphy was causing the Laois defence all sorts of problems with his fetching, running, distributing and finishing and would have inflicted a whole lot more punishment if better quality possession had come his way.

With Laois in control at midfield, he was relying on limited resources close to goal and when he worked his way outfield, it seriously reduced Carlow's scoring threat. Still, they led by 0-8 to 0-3 just past the half-hour mark.

They had missed three scoreable frees while Laois had also wasted some good chances but, ominously, they controlled a lot of possession against the wind.

Laois then made a game-changing break in the 32nd minute when wing-back Padraig McMahon sprinted forward, picked up possession around 55 metres from the Carlow goal and galloped through a hesitant defence before driving the ball past Trevor O'Reilly.

Ross Munnelly pointed a free before the break to reduce the gap to 0-8 to 1-4 and leave Carlow facing a challenge for which they weren't equipped.

The manner in which their five-point lead was all but wiped out in a matter of minutes was a clear example of Division 2 v Division 4, a pattern which grew even more pronounced within minutes of the restart. Laois scored 1-3 – the goal coming from corner-forward David Conway – in the first five minutes, which opened up a five-point lead.

Given the drastic losses they had suffered just before and after half-time, it was most unlikely that Carlow would stage a revival, and so it proved. They battled on bravely but, as the margin widened, their error-rate increased.

Laois sub Colm Kelly scored a third goal for his side in the 56th minute after a defensive error, a score that begun the exodus of Carlow supporters from what was the county's last outing of the season.

The manner in which Laois turned a five-point deficit into a five-point lead so quickly, albeit against much lower-ranked opposition, will renew hopes that something can yet be salvaged from the season.

It was achieved with a squad which had suffered several defections after the defeat by Louth, a setback which might well have damaged morale.

Clearly, it didn't, as the workrate, effort and general sense of unity was most impressive, both when they were under pressure against the wind in the first half and later when they were able to indulge their more creative instincts.

No fewer than nine Laois men got on the scoreboard and what will also have pleased manager Justin McNulty was the manner in which many of the scores were crafted.

Granted, they won't be given the same amount of latitude against better defences, but they proved last year that once they got a qualifier win behind them, they grew with each challenge.

As for Carlow, they will regret not setting Laois a higher target during their better periods in the first half and also how easily they had their five-point advantage wiped out.

The success of the venture from a spectator viewpoint may well tempt the GAA to experiment with another Friday evening qualifier tie before the end of the season. It's unlikely that a Saturday/Sunday fixture between this pair would have attracted such a large crowd, which generated a great atmosphere.

Carlow supporters heavily outnumbered their counterparts but that was to be expected, given the depression that descended on Laois after the defeat by Louth. This win should go some way to restoring confidence in the county as there's no doubt that when the team plays to its full potential there's a lot of substance to it.

There are far more difficult tests ahead but, for now, Laois will be pleased to have made a successful start to the qualifiers while also creating history as the first Friday evening championship winners.

Scorers – Laois: D Conway, C Kelly 1-1 each, P McMahon 1-0, R Munnelly (2f), D Kingston (3f) 0-3 each, D Strong 0-2, K Lillis, P Clancy, J O'Loughlin 0-1 each. Carlow: J Kennedy, Brendan Murphy, Brian Murphy (3f) 0-3 each, D Foley 0-2 (1f), J Murphy 0-1.

Laois – E Culliton 7; P Begley 6, M Timmons 7, P O'Leary 7; D Strong 8, K Lillis 8, P McMahon 8; P Clancy 8, J O'Loughlin 9; B Sheehan 7, C Meredith 7, C Begley 7; R Munnelly 7, D Kingston 7, D Conway 7. Subs: C Kelly 7 for Kingston (50), D Booth 6 for P Begley (53), C Boyle 6 for Clancy (59), N Donoher for Sheehan (66), S Attride for Strong (66)

Carlow – T O'Reilly 6; BJ Molloy 5, C Lawlor 5, B Kavanagh 5; K Nolan 5, S Redmond 6, T Bolger 5; J Murphy 6, D Foley 5; P Reid 5, E Ruth 6, S Gannon 5; Brian Murphy 6, Jack Kennedy 7, Brendan Murphy 8. Subs: W Minchin 6 for Foley (46), M Doyle 5 for Nolan (49), C Moran 5 for Reid (58), S Mernagh for Redmond (66), C Murphy for Bolger (66).

Ref – F Kelly (Longford)

 

Game At A Glance

MAN OF THE MATCH

John O'Loughlin (Laois)

The O'Moore County captain gave a hugely energetic and efficient performance at midfield. His veteran partner Padraig Clancy also did well before being replaced in the second half when the game was over as a contest. O'Loughlin maintained momentum all the way to the finish.

TURNING POINT

Carlow led by five points before Padraig McMahon's goal in the 32nd minute brought Laois right back into contention against the strong wind. The margin was down to a point by half-time, setting Laois up to build a winning momentum in the second half.

TALKING POINT

Could Friday evening football be on the way on a regular basis? The 4,606 attendance was almost twice as large as the turnout for last year's first-round qualifier tie between the same counties in Portlaoise.

MAGIC MOMENT

McMahon's goal in the 32nd minute was a brilliant individual effort. He took the ball through the Carlow defence at pace for over 50 metres before finishing to the net with an accurate drive

REF WATCH

Longford's Fergal Kelly did well. He was especially vigilant on off-the-ball fouling when defenders checked opposition runs just as the ball was about to be delivered from out the field.

MATCH STATISTICS

Wides:

Carlow 8(4 first half)

Laois 15 (7)

Frees:

Carlow 14 (9)

Laois 23 (11)

Yellow cards:

Carlow 0; Laois 3 (P McMahon 21, J O'Loughlin 39, M Timmons 57)

Red cards:

Carlow 0

Laois 0

WHAT NEXT?

Laois head for Round 2 of the qualifiers on July 13; Carlow's season is over.

Irish Independent

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