Friday 23 February 2018

'If we defend like that, Dublin will be gone out the gate in ten minutes' - Laois boss Mick Lillis

Laois 3-16 Wicklow0-18

Laois's John O'Loughlin breaks free of a challenge by Wicklow's Paul Cunningham during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship, Round 1 match. Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Laois's John O'Loughlin breaks free of a challenge by Wicklow's Paul Cunningham during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship, Round 1 match. Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Laois's Ruairí O'Connor shoots under pressure from goalkeeper Robert Lambert and Arran Murphy of Wicklow. Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Wicklow's Dean Healy in action against Donal Kingston of Laois. Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Wicklow's Marc Lennon holds off a challenge by Laois's Paul Cotter. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It says something about the status of the Leinster championship that even in their absence, Dublin dominated the post-match conversation in O'Moore Park on Saturday night.

After seeing his side put 18 points on Laois, Wicklow manager Johnny Magee - in typically straight-talking style - suggested that the Dubs could at least double that tally. His Laois counterpart Mick Lillis agreed.

"You would be terrified," Lillis said.

"If we defend like that Dublin will be gone out the gate in ten or fifteen minutes and they won't even look behind them. Dublin would destroy us on that performance and probably would destroy anybody. That's just the way it is.

"We would hope we won't be as poor but, to be honest, it will be hard to stop them.

"Stopping Dublin is a mammoth task and I don't know if there is anybody capable of doing it, never mind us. As somebody said to me after the game, the pick of the four teams (that played in Portlaoise on Saturday night) probably wouldn't beat Dublin and they would probably be right."

The record books will show that Laois had seven points to spare here and went some way towards justifying their pre-match price of 1/10, but their nerves had been jangling right up until Donie Kingston's 69th-minute goal.

Three times Laois opened up a six-point lead and three times Wicklow dragged themselves back to within touching distance.

That they kept coming was to their credit and at times they insisted in getting in their own way. They missed scoreable frees and coughed up a scrappy goal when a short kick-out went wrong and substitute Ruairi O'Connor, who replaced Ross Munnelly at half-time, blasted to the net.

That score gave Laois a five-point cushion but Wicklow, driven by the excellent Dean Healy and Rory Finn, would come again and got to within a goal before Kingston decided things.


It was the second year in a row that Magee brought his team to the boil at just the right time. Three wins in division four made it hard to make a compelling case for Wicklow but as they did against Meath 12 months ago in Navan, they made life very uncomfortable for Laois.

And they did it after a dozen of that panel moved on.

"We played some very good football and just a few mistakes, at this level, cost us. And that's the big thing. These lads are giving me everything, and at this level you can't make those mistakes and expect to come out the other end. 

"But we had seven or eight lads who came on and made their championship debuts … it's part of a process, but I'm extremely proud of the guys. I can't ask for anything more, bar the result really." 

Magee and Wicklow face into the uncertainty of the qualifiers and can only hope for a kinder draw than last year when they were sent to Armagh. The former Dublin defender wants to see a more equitable system put in place.

"Last year we played nine games and two games in the summer. Today again we're away again - away twice last year. 

"I'm banging on the drum, and I'll keep banging it, and if I have to go over and knock on Paraic Duffy's door, I'll knock on his door. But at the end of the day, how long is it going to continue?"

Magee misses out on a chance to take on Dublin - a fixture he says would have left him "between a rock and a hard place" - but fears for Laois on June 4.

"If we can score 18 points off them, you know, it's going to be very difficult for them … if we can score 18 points off them, you would think that Dublin would probably double that. But, at the end of the day, Dublin are at a different level. 

"It's a tough task ahead of them - but, sure, that's why they brought in Anthony Cunningham, isn't it? It wasn't for us, let's be honest!" 

Lillis and Cunningham have just three weeks to prepare for Dublin. Jim Gavin's All-Ireland champions will play championship outside of Croke Park for the first time since 2006 but Lilllis wasn't hiding back on what he thought of the decision to move the match to Nowlan Park. His experience of the venue was, he said, limited to watching Bruce Springsteen from around the midfield mark.

"We will play wherever we are asked to play but I think the game being played in Nowlan Park is a disgrace. I genuinely think it was a shocking bad decision and one that the people who voted for it will have to live with.

"But it's all down to money and it is a terrible indictment of the GAA that it is down to money. It is not down to bums on seats, which was the reason, that there are more seats in Nowlan Park. Sure the Dubs don't sit down in Croke Park, why would they want to sit down in Nowlan Park?"

"I'm not so sure if it is disrespectful to Laois. It is disrespectful to every county who would have a chance of drawing Dublin at home. The fanfare of bringing Dublin to any venue would be phenomenal. You couldn't write away for it.

"To bring it to Nowlan Park, the home of hurling where a game of football is never played, is a bit if a travesty. I would hope on reflection that a different decision would be made."

Scorers - Laois: D Kingston 1-6 (2f); G Walsh 1-1; E O'Carroll 0-4 (3f); R O'Connor 1-0; R Munnelly 0-2 (1f); P Cahillane, J O'Loughlin, G Dillon 0-1 each. Wicklow: R Finn 0-6 (4f); P Cunningham (2f), J McGrath (1f), D Healy 0-2 each; D Hayden, P Byrne, P McLoughlin, A McLoughlin, J Crowe, A Murphy 0-1 each.

Laois - G Brody 6; S Attride 7, M Timmons 7, P Cotter 6; D O'Connor 6, D Strong 7, G Dillon 6; J O'Loughlin 8, B Quigley 6; N Donoher 6, P Cahillane 6, E O'Carroll 7; R Munnelly 6, G Walsh 7, D Kingston 8. Subs: M Campion for Donoher 6 (inj); R O'Connor 7 for Munnelly (both h-t); K Meaney 6 for Campion (48); A Farrell 6 for Dillon (55); E Keane for Walsh (61); J Farrell for O'Carroll (67).

Wicklow - R Lambert 6; C Hyland 7, P McLoughlin 6, A Murphy 6; C Murphy 7, D Healy 8, S Kelly 8; R Finn 8, N Gaffney 6; D Hayden 6, J McGrath 6, M Kenny 6; P Byrne 6, P Cunningham 7, M Lennon 6. Subs: A McLoughlin 6 for Gaffney (h-t); D Woods 6 for Kenny (41 mins); P O'Connor 6 for McGrath (43); J Crowe 6 for Murphy (50); S Thompson 6 for Byrne (56); G Allen for Lennon (66).

Referee: F Kelly (Longford).

Irish Independent

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