We would travel to Timbuktu to play the All-Ireland champions – Laois boss McNulty
Published 24/07/2013 | 05:00
Justin McNulty doesn't try to window-dress the last few weeks for Laois football. The balls from the drum on successive Monday mornings have dropped very kindly for them for the second year running.
It has allowed them to sit up into recovery position after the body blow of a 10-point defeat to Louth in the first round of the Leinster championship on May 26 and the subsequent exodus of four of their 20 players used that day – including midfielder Brendan Quigley.
As each visa was stamped, it painted the picture of a dressing-room in some chaos. But wins over Carlow, Clare and Wexford have been therapeutic, leading to a sense of "excitement," according to McNulty as they prepare to take on the All-Ireland champions this weekend.
The pragmatist in McNulty knows, however, that they have stepped their way through potential trouble.
"The draws have been kind to us. This has allowed us to get a little bit of confidence back and a little bit of momentum," he said.
"There is nothing to get carried away with. We've beaten two Division 4 teams and a team that is now in Division 3."
The transformation since May 26 hasn't been that significant in terms of personnel. Padraic Clancy has come into midfield, where he has been joined by John O'Loughlin, and that has worked well.
Behind them Padraig McMahon's surging runs continue to carry a goal threat; Colm Begley showed form against Wexford last weekend; Billy Sheehan has also come in and added experience; Conor Meredith is finding his touch, while Ross Munnelly lurks as dangerous as ever.
Efforts to persuade Cahir Healy back to the squad after Laois exited the hurling championship on the same weekend as the footballers beat Clare have failed.
"His desire was to go travelling. He's had a tough season. They had a reasonably positive campaign and he felt he just needed a break," said McNulty.
The manager still finds it difficult to pinpoint reasons for their collapse to Louth, who subsequently lost to Wexford, Laois' opponents last weekend.
"It's a difficult one, it's mind boggling. We didn't do ourselves justice in the first round, but we've been able to get things back on track," he said.
"There were a lot of hard questions asked post-Louth. It was a very uncomfortable place to be, but guys stayed tight and kept believing."
For the second year running the qualifiers have offered unlikely redemption after hugely disappointing exits from Leinster.
Last year Carlow, Monaghan, Leitrim and Meath – six days after the Royal County's Leinster final defeat to Dublin – offered a pathway to recovery before they put up a highly respectable performance against Dublin in All-Ireland quarter-finals.
The Laois supporters have also been drawn by the prospect of playing Donegal, with strong ticket sales reported locally.
"The match is being played in Carrick-on-Shannon, which is not really a well worn stomping ground. Geographically it is a much more convenient for Donegal. However, we would travel to Timbuktu to play the All-Ireland champions," admitted McNulty.
Laois have a decent recent league record against Donegal since McNulty and Jim McGuinness have taken charge.
They've beaten them in two group games (Division 1 and Division 2), while they lost the Division 2 league final by just a point (2-11 to 0-16) in April, 2011.
"It's a massive challenge for us, but one we are very excited by. Looking back on last weekend, everyone knows Donegal had a major off day, so we would be expecting a major backlash from them," he said.
"On the other hand a lot people thought we got out of jail because of the wide count and missed goal opportunities by Wexford – and we know if we give Donegal the same opportunities they will destroy us."