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THE LIBERATION OF LAOIS (Feb-July 2003)

LAOIS lost their first game under Mick O'Dwyer on January 5 last, going down to Longford by 0-13 to 0-10 in the O'Byrne Cup at Portlaoise. "Same old Laois," muttered the sceptics. Not quite. Since then, they have played 14 League and Championship games, winning ten, drawing three and losing one.

Feb 2 - NFL: Laois 0-11, Meath 0-7, Navan. Damien Delaney scored 0-8 as Laois racked up their first League points under O'Dwyer. Man-of-the-match: Damien Delaney (Laois).

Feb 9 - NFL: Laois 1-14 Fermanagh 1-11, Portlaoise. A preview of the All-Ireland quarter-final, perhaps? "Ye're top of the table, Micko," remarked a local journalist. "Yeah, we can afford to jog along now." Man-of-the-match: Stephen Maguire (Fermanagh).

Feb 16 - NFL: Laois 1-9 Mayo 1-8, Ballinrobe. Laois led by six points after 30 minutes but had to withstand a forceful Mayo rally before completing their third win. Man-of-the-match: Pauric Clancy (Laois).

Mar 2 - NFL: Laois 0-17, Down 2-11, Portlaoise. Damien Delaney kicked 0-11 (10f, 1 '45) but it was 'Beano' McDonald who shot the levelling point in a see-saw contest. Man-of-the-match: Kevin Fitzpatrick (Laois).

Mar 9 - NFL: Laois 1-8 Sligo 0-5, Portlaoise. Sligo led by two points after 18 minutes but Laois were a point clear by the break and a second half goal by Damien Delaney steered them home comfortably. Man-of-the-match: Colm Byrne (Laois).

Mar 23 - NFL: Laois 2-17 Cavan 4-11, Breffni Park. Laois led by five points after 12 minutes and by 1-10 to 2-5 at half-time. Cavan rallied and led with six minutes to go before Laois opened up a three-point lead late on which was cancelled by Peter Reilly's penalty goal. Man-of-the-match: Dermot McCabe (Cavan).

Apr 6 - NFL: Laois 1-14 Kildare 1-9, Portlaoise. A significant win as Laois beat their neighbours for the first time in 71 years at Portlaoise. Laois led by six points after 15 minutes but Kildare cut it back to three before half-time. Laois extended the lead to 11 points before Kildare (as they did last Sunday too) launched a comeback. Man of the match: Colm Parkinson (Laois).

April 20 - NFL semi-final: Laois 1-14 Armagh 1-11, Croke Park. All-Ireland champions, Armagh led by three points after 30 minutes and by 1-9 to 1-8 early in the second half but managed just two more points while Laois kicked 0-6 to reach the League final for the first time since 1986. Man-of-the-match: Joe Higgins (Laois).

May 4 - NFL final : Tyrone 0-21 Laois 1-8, Croke Park. Reality check. Laois didn't score for 20 minutes, trailed by 0-10 to 1-4 at half-time and lost the second half by 0-11 to 0-4. "People will think that this will upset us completely but I believe it won't do us any harm," remarked a prophetic O'Dwyer. Man of the match: Peter Canavan (Tyrone).

May 11 - Leinster SFC: Laois 1-19 Wexford 0-10, Croke Park. Laois led by 1-7 to 0-6 at half-time and went on to dominate the second half on a day when 'Beano' McDonald kicked 0-6 from play. Man-of-the-match: 'Beano' McDonald (Laois).

May 25 - Leinster SFC: Laois 1-12 Offaly 1-12, Portlaoise. Laois trailed by three points in the 68th minute but cut the gap to two before Michael Lawlor scored an injury-time goal which was cancelled out by Ciarán McManus' equaliser from a '45. Man of the match: Michael Lawlor (Laois).

June 2 - Leinster SFC replay: Laois 2-10 Offaly 0-13, Tullamore. A first championship win for Laois over Offaly in Tullamore since 1968. Offaly led by a point after 48 minutes but a 'Beano' McDonald goal set Laois, who had lost a six-point first half lead, on their way to the Leinster semi-final. Man-of-the-match: Tom Kelly (Laois).

June 16 - Leinster semi-final: Laois 0-16 Dublin 0-14, Croke Park. A first senior championship win over Dublin since 1981. Laois led by 0-13 to 0-8 after 57 minutes and withstood a fierce Dublin challenge in the closing stages. Man-of-the-match: Pauric Clancy (Laois).

July 20 - Leinster final: Laois 2-13 Kildare 1-13, Croke Park. A first Leinster title win for Laois since 1946. "Even when I had my hands on the cup and I could see the delighted expressions on the faces of our fans, I could still hardly believe that we were the Leinster champions." - Laois captain, Ian Fitzgerald. Man-of-the-match: Tom Kelly (Laois).

August 2/3/4: All-Ireland quarter-final - Possible opponents: Armagh, Roscommon, Fermanagh, Donegal, Down. "Everything is a bonus from here on in but we'll have a right crack at the next game, whoever we meet." - Mick O'Dwyer.

- Martin Breheny