Brody saves not enough to thwart Monaghan
Monaghan 0-19 Laois 1-11
For the second time in 24 hours a team in white took the first half of an All-Ireland fourth-round qualifier in Navan by storm. And for the second time in 24 hours that team was left with nagging little doubts after failing to kill off the game in the manner that they should have.
Monaghan didn't replicate Kildare or vice-versa. But there were sufficient parallels to draw a comparison.
In both cases they were facing opponents vulnerable after provincial games that weren't great experiences for either, no matter how it is dressed up.
Just as Kildare were in the opening half on Saturday night, Monaghan were clinical and economical during the same period, registering just two wides and one shot dropped short.
That didn't take into account the goal chances they created and failed to take though, thanks chiefly to the heroics of Graham Brody who has established himself as the goalkeeper of the summer so far, not just for his outfield forays.
Brody is not new to this level of performance as anyone who watched him against Dublin in 2014, and again in the recent Leinster final, can testify.
But he took his shot-stopping to another level here and while Monaghan may have played into his hands on occasion, six times he thwarted them to give the beaten Leinster finalists a lifeline.
A few of the questions Malachy O'Rourke was asked to address afterwards focused on possible complacency setting into his team's effort that ultimately put them into a sixth All-Ireland quarter-final and perhaps more relevantly, a fifth in six years.
Complacency is hard to prove but it's a hard one to bat away too, especially when they appeared to have it under such tight control and when there is the recent history of two successive Ulster semi-final defeats to opponents they should have had the measure of.
"It's not even complacency," figured O'Rourke. "I don't think it was complacency against Fermanagh either. Coming off the league performances, beating Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone, it's just very hard for players to keep up that high level," he suggested.
"I think the performance dipped against Fermanagh. I don't think the boys were complacent, we kept battling away, we overturned an early deficit, we were leading going into injury time by two points. We had more or less the game won and then we were hit by a sucker punch. I don't think we would have done that if we were complacent. Look at the record over the last few years. We've gone in as favourites, we have won them so I don't think that can be levelled at the boys."
To reach another quarter-final should, of course, have been a cause for some mild celebration. But as soon as referee Derek O'Mahoney had called time the players were being summoned to the dressing-room. No time to loiter and enjoy in this busy season, time to move on.
They had been clinical in the opening half. Laois played with a sweeper with half-forward Brian Glynn dropping back to support his defence, but that left Karl O'Connell free too often and he exploited the space to slice over two fine points among many Monaghan were able to create. Conor McManus sent over two from those angles and distances that he revels in while Rory Beggan nonchalantly converted a 45 and a long-range free with the stride and posture of a man taking a stroll in a park.
Beggan's kick-outs were worked to perfection too. For their 12th point he delivered long and accurately into space for Ryan McAnespie to run on to and he set up Jack McCarron.
With Shane Carey picking off three points and Niall Kearns franking his improvement as a midfielder all season, Monaghan had firm control.
But those goal chances they left out there - Fintan Kelly, McAnespie and Conor McCarthy all thwarted by Brody - will have grated.
For Laois, Colm Begley was a steady hand at the heart of defence, Gareth Dillon had some success on McManus and Evan O'Carroll was lively. But they couldn't get Donie Kingston into the game consistently as Drew and Ryan Wylie held firm behind Vinny Corey.
Eventually, Paul Kingston found some freedom to race on to an O'Carroll delivery to turn and finish in style on 35 minutes.
Monaghan led by 0-14 to 1-4 at the break but lost the second half 0-7 to 0-5. Maybe the heat impacted and, had McAnespie, McManus or O'Connell not blinked first in their one-on-ones with the vigilant Laois 'keeper, it would surely have been different. But the way it finished gives them food for thought after a qualifier draw that has been favourable for the second successive year.
Laois manager John Sugrue wondered, in hindsight, if playing a sweeper in the first half was the wisest choice.
"We have come up against teams of our own ability to a great degree so you have a big step up and you have to recognise that," he said. "Maybe it is a lack of bravery on our behalf as a management team not to go orthodox and toe-to-toe with these teams," he reflected.
They got more pace off their bench through the second half and got on the front foot more as Monaghan appeared to sit back somewhat.
Assessing how they can build on a relatively promising first season is something the Kerryman will try to identify now. But he had some scathing words for his team's critics, railing against the idea that they were the poorest of the final 12 teams left in the championship.
"Lots of people out there have to some degree written and spoken a lot of verbal diarrhoea about this team. Even throughout the year, even while we are making progress, they haven't necessarily respected us for what we're trying to do," he said.
"Some people ranked us 12 out of 12 in the qualifiers. Twelfth team out of the twelve that were competing? I think some of those individuals need to look at themselves. Our boys are able to play football, we're not a 12 of the 12 remaining as it stood going into this weekend."
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