Higgins lashes lack of commitment from Laois players
FORMER All Star Joe Higgins has expressed shock and disappointment at the talent drain which will leave Laois severely depleted for the All-Ireland football qualifiers.
With Brendan Quigley set to join Kevin Meaney and Gary Walsh in the US for the rest of the summer, the prospects of Laois repeating last year's successful run through the qualifiers have been greatly reduced.
"I wouldn't agree with players going away at this stage, no matter what's going on inside or outside the squad. Lads should see it through to the end. We're either in this together or we're not. Some other counties are also losing players before the qualifiers. I find it hard to understand.
"I know times are hard and all that, but you don't get players opting out while they're still in the provincial championships, so I don't see why it should be any different for the All-Ireland qualifiers. There's still an awful lot to play for," said Higgins.
Laois' latest implosion comes on the 10th anniversary of their first Leinster title win for 57 years.
"It's not what we thought would be happening 10 years down the road. It's sad to see. I don't know what's going on, but I think that players should see things through and then decide at the end of the year whether they want to stay with inter-county football," he said.
The 2003 All Star left full-back, who is managing Graiguecullen, said that he was surprised by Laois' very poor performance against Louth in the first round of the Leinster championship.
"In terms of strength and conditioning, Laois never looked better, but they weren't as good on the football side. Something wasn't right," he said.
Manager Justin McNulty has taken some criticism from Laois supporters, but Higgins believes that's the easy option. "It's easy to blame managers, but players have to take responsibility too, whether in Laois or anywhere else," he declared.
Laois enjoyed their best-ever qualifier run last year, winning all four rounds and earning a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, where they lost by three points to Dublin.
He added: "That's what makes the loss of players at this stage so disappointing. The qualifiers were good for Laois last year and, with a bit of luck, they could have beaten Dublin in the quarter-final. I don't see why everyone couldn't have stuck around and had another go."
Laois will join the other 15 counties who didn't qualify for the provincial semi-finals in the first round qualifier draw, which will be broadcast on RTE radio on Monday week.