Lethal Louth leave Laois stunned with early blitz
Allianz Football League Division 3: Louth 3-8 Laois 1-9
Everybody loves a good deal and Louth certainly felt like they'd bagged a bargain on Saturday, landing a satisfying 2 for 1 special - a rare league win and an even rarer victory at Croke Park!
The former is all that really matters, of course, but a win at HQ for a young squad was a nice added bonus for rookie manager Wayne Kierans.
First and foremost it puts two precious points on the board following a disappointing opener against Longford, but the confidence and morale gleaned from a surprise win over a fancied Laois side may prove just as important as Division 3 unfolds over the next seven weeks.
Analysing Louth's first four fixtures against Longford, Laois, Offaly and Sligo, this was the one that many supporters may have written off, but a blistering start by the Reds and a 21st minute red card for Kieran Lilis ensured they were always in control.
The form lines were skewed by the fact that Laois rose from Division 4 last term while Louth crashed out of Division 2, but there was no hiding the fact that the Reds arrived here on the back of 10 straight league defeats dating back to March 2017, while their two championship campaigns in the interim were equally abysmal.
Laois, on the other hand, topped Division 4 with six wins from six last term, won the ensuing league title decider and went on to reach the Leinster final. Dublin won that at the expected canter, but John Sugrue's side gave a decent account of themselves in a Super-8 decider defeat to Monaghan two weeks later.
Add in the fact that Laois were impressive winners in Newry the night before Louth lost at home to Longford a week earlier and you couldn't really have made a solid case for a Wee County victory.
Thankfully, Wayne Kierans and his young guns didn't buy into any of that 'logic' and tore up the script just as ruthlessly as they ripped through the Laois defence in the opening 15 minutes.
Croke Park was a surreal stage for a Division 3 National League clash, but with Ireland and England locking horns across the city shortly afterwards, precious few were attracted by the novelty factor.
The neutral venue was a result of a Laois training camp to Kerry during the 'club month' of April last season. It's not clear whether the O'Moore county had a say in which home game they would sacrifice, but if they thought Louth might be the softest option, they were swiftly and rudely rebuked.
The evergreen Ross Munnelly drew first blood with an early point from a mark and then one from play, but Louth's response was as emphatic as it was unexpected.
Ryan Burns kicked a free to settle nerves and less than a minute later Louth sliced through the Laois defence for the first, but by no means last, time.
John Clutterbuck made the crucial line-break, offloading to Sam Mulroy. He teed up a galloping Conor Early, who just had to strike hard and true to beat Graham Brody from close range.
Mulroy was the provider again just over two minutes later. This time the move originated from the right and Louth's other marauding wing back Anthony Williams was involved before Mulroy teed up Ryan Burns for a simple slap-in to an empty net.
Munnelly tried to hold back the tide, converting a close-range free, but a footblock by Stephen Attride gave Burns the chance to really hammer home Louth's superiority and he duly sent Brody the wrong way with his spot-kick, making it 3-1 to 0-3.
Laois were stunned, but their day was about to get a lot worse as Kieran Lillis was dismissed on a straight red card following an off-the-ball coming-together with Mulroy, who picked up a yellow in the incident.
The sides traded three points apiece in the final 15 minutes of normal-time.
But Louth lost Conor Early to his second black card in as many games and Laois gratefully grabbed another lifeline in the couple of minutes added by Barry Tiernan as Ross Munnelly netted a penalty after Anthony Williams fouled a goal-bound Colm Murphy.
But Louth still adjourned with a healthy 3-4 to 1-6 cushion and once Early's sin-binning elapsed they would have an extra man in the second period.
Laois brought in Donie Kingston and Evan O'Carroll at half-time, but they couldn't gain a foothold and the sides only managed two points apiece by the hour mark.
However, it could well have been different had the majestic Tommy Durnin not somehow hooked the ball off his own-line in the 53rd minute.
After such a long streak without a win, Louth fans would have been understandably edgy, but a stunning move from their own full back line that ended with Conall McKeever firing over certainly settled nerves.
Thereafter Laois didn't really look like pulling it out of the fire, but Louth did have to endure five minutes of added time, during which Sam Mulroy made absolutely certain of victory.
LOUTH: Fergal Sheekey; Fergal Donohoe, Emmet Carolan, Dan Corcoran; Anthony Williams, Bevan Duffy, John Clutterbuck; Tommy Durnin 0-1, Conor Early 1-0; Conor Branigan 0-1, Ciaran Downey, Conall McKeever 0-1; Andy McDonnell, Sam Mulroy 0-2 (1f, 1mk), Ryan Burns (2-3, 1-0 pen, 1mk, 2f). Subs: James Califf for C Early (37), Declan Byrne for R Burns (51), Hugh Osbourne for D Corcoran (58), Eoghan Duffy for A McDonnell (61), Ruairi Moore for C McKeever (66).
LAOIS: Graham Brody; David Seale, Shane Nerney, Adam Campion; Stephen Attride, Robbie Piggott, Gareth Dillon; John O'Loughlin, Kieran Lillis; Damien O'Connor, Conor Boyle, Sean Byrne; Ross Munnelly 1-6 (1-0 pen, 1mk, 4f), Colm Murphy 0-1f, Paul Kingston. Subs: Martin Scully for Seán Byrne (2, blood sub), Colm Begley for M Scully (23), Donie Kingston 0-2 (1f) for D Seale (ht), Evan O'Carroll for D O'Connor (ht), Mark Barry for R Munnelly (56), Paul Cahillane for C Murphy (66).
Referee: Barry Tiernan (Dublin).