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'Topsy-turvy' Laois keen to build on momentum


Laois football manager Justin McNulty. Picture: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Laois football manager Justin McNulty. Picture: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Laois football manager Justin McNulty. Picture: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

EXACTLY 12 months ago, Laois footballers were already out of Leinster and the knives were out for Justin McNulty.

What a difference one redemptive 'back door' campaign can make: Laois recovered to reach an All-Ireland quarter-final where they pushed Dublin closer than most people expected, and now they'll be hoping to push through the front door this summer, starting at home to Louth next Sunday.

McNulty admitted there was internal "unrest" in the wake of last year's early provincial exit to Longford, but key to their resurrection was that they stuck together through adversity.

"It's a question of momentum," the Armagh All-Ireland winner recalled. "Carlow at home (in the qualifiers) was vital. It was a local derby; it was a tough game to come out victors in. Then for the other games we just got teams at the right time – teams who were down – and most important, fundamentally, was the team stayed tight.

"The team were uncomfortable," he conceded. "There was so much unrest within the camp; guys were uneasy with the the huge disappointment of being beaten, but they stayed tight. They kept their troubles in-house."

However, as he stands on the brink of his third championship, McNulty was loath to predict if Laois can build on the momentum of last year's qualifier run.

"That remains to be seen," he cautioned. "We've had a topsy-turvy league campaign. A good start and then indifferent performances for a few games, but finished well. What has happened last year and in the league is gone. Now we're focussed on Louth, the only game that matters.

This Sunday will see McNulty battle for sideline supremacy against Louth's year-one boss Aidan O'Rourke, having shared an All-Ireland winning dressing-room with his former defensive comrade 11 years ago.

"Me and Aidan have been at war many times together," the Laois manager pointed out. "We've been playing together since we were 14 years old. We know each other inside out.

"Aidan is a meticulous planner, fantastic motivator, his attention to detail is phenomenal and he's tactically astute ... Aidan has had a good apprenticeship working with Kieran (McGeeney) in Kildare, James McCartan in Down. They will know us more than we know them."