Kingston class holds off late Wicklow rally
Laois 2-16 Wicklow 3-10
Laois manager Peter Creedon was relieved to get out of Joule Park, Aughrim on Saturday with a victory which ensures the O'Moore County's place in the next round of qualifiers.
Ultimately, that was the main objective, but a magnificently defiant Wicklow came tantalisingly close to snatching a win, or at least taking the match into extra-time with a late barrage of attacks.
Creedon's men had the match all but sewn up when they led by nine points with 2-16 on the scoreboard to Wicklow's 1-10 with seven minutes of normal time left to play.
And then, all hell broke loose as Laois were pinned back by a series of all-or-nothing Wicklow raids.
On 67 minutes, Seanie Furlong tried to catch the Laois backs off guard as he fired a free low and hard at goal instead of taking the point which at that stage would have been meaningless - or so everyone thought.
Furlong's attempt went by the post. A wide. Surely that was the end of the Wicklow surge, but no - they came again right from the Laois kick-out, and this time the pressure resulted in substitute Paddy Byrne slamming in a goal.
A minute later Paul Cunningham, who had scored Wicklow's first goal back in the 52nd minute, was in the right place at the right time to slot in goal number three for Wicklow.
Out of nothing the gap was down to three points and referee Barry Cassidy had signalled three minutes of added time.
Credit to Laois, they were shaken but not stirred enough to fold, despite the hammer blows they had incurred in that frenzied bout of action around their goal area.
There were no more scores, and, overall, Wicklow could have no complaints.
Johnny Magee's side were willing and able and worked hard for each other, but Laois had the experience, the nous, and the physicality as represented by Colm Begley, Brendan Quigley, John O'Loughlin, and man of the match Donie Kingston, to see them safely home.
Peter Creedon knows that a big improvement is required albeit this was a good bounce-back from a 14-point drubbing by Kildare in their last outing.
"At the end I suppose we were hanging on a little bit," he said. "A strange game. We conceded two goals in probably injury-time or close enough to injury-time, and we could have scored a goal and a point ourselves. Look, I'm happy with a win and we're moving on.
"We'd be honest enough to know that in two weeks' time we'll be playing the likes of Mayo, or Donegal, Tyrone, or Meath, and Clare are a good team, so we'll have to up it, big time."
Johnny Magee, the Wicklow manager, hailed the wholehearted effort of his players.
"I just felt there was a bit of nervousness about the lads at the start. Maybe that was playing at home, I don't know, but Laois got the early run on us.
"We came back in the second half. That was more like us, that's what I see in this team, but we just came up short at the end.
"I'm disappointed for these lads. They put in a huge effort and it would have been great to get a bit of a run in the qualifiers," he said.
The former Dublin footballer has taken charge of Wicklow for the last three years and will not make any immediate decisions about his future with the Garden County.
"I'll take a break and focus on the family for a while," said Magee.
Wicklow were caught on the back foot early on by an energetic start from their opponents.
Gary Walsh struck two points, one from a '45, and Donie Kingston raised a white flag from a free in the first eight minutes.
Wicklow's first point came from a Seanie Furlong free in the 10th minute, but just after that score, Colm Begley and Kingston opened up the home team defence for Walsh to gain possession, jink past two tackles and slam the ball to the net. Another quick score by Kingston from a free and Laois extended their margin to six points at 1-4 to 0-1 after 12 minutes.
Only a courageous and timely block by Wicklow's Darren Hayden in the 21st minute prevented Kingston from scoring a second goal for Laois.
As the half wore on, Wicklow were raiding only sporadically, but it took good reflexes by Laois 'keeper Graham Brody to deny Paul Cunningham a goal from close range in the 29th minute.
Three minutes later Laois lost the services of Brendan Quigley who had taken a knock to his upper spine area. He was replaced by James Finn.
At half-time, Laois looked solidly in control at 1-8 to 0-5. Their manager thought they could have done even better.
"There were aspects of our game today that were very good, and there were aspects that were poor, but it was 26 or 27 degrees out there, so it wasn't easy to play," said Creedon.
The crowd of around 2,000 basked in the heat and the sunshine in temperatures of 26 degrees.
On the pitch, for all the competitiveness of the encounter, referee Barry Cassidy kept firm control of the game.
In fairness, the exchanges, while hard and direct at times, did not overstep the mark, although Laois lost their captain, Stephen Attride, to a black-card offence in the 42nd minute.
Evan O'Carroll came on for Attride but was later substituted himself after he suffered a hamstring problem.
The atmosphere around the scenic ground gradually ramped up in intensity, culminating in that late drama as Wicklow dug deep in those desperate attempts to save the day.
Scorers - Laois: D Kingston 1-4 (2f), G Walsh 1-3 (2 '45s), J O'Loughlin 0-2, C Begley 0-2, D Conway, T Collins, A Farrell, R Munnelly, D O'Connor 0-1 each.
Wicklow: P Cunningham 2-3 (1f); S Furlong 0-3 (3f), Paddy Byrne 1-0, M Kenny 0-2, J McGrath 0-2.
Laois - G Brody 7; D Strong 7, M Timmons 7, T Collins 7; E Buggie 7, P McMahon 6, C Begley 6; B Quigley 7, J O'Loughlin 7; A Farrell 7, D Conway 7, D O'Connor 7; S Attride 7; D Kingston 8, G Walsh 7.
Subs: J Finn 6 for B Quigley (32 mins), E O'Carroll 6 for S Attride (BC, 42), R Munnelly 6 for G Walsh (43), K Lillis 6 for P McMahon (46), A Doran for E O'Carroll (60), G Dillon for D Conway (63).
Wicklow - R Lambert 6; C Hyland 6, A McLoughlin 6, S Kelly 6; D Fitzgerald 6, B Kennedy 6, J Crowe 6; D Boothman 5, R Finn 6; D Hayden 6, D Healy 6, C Ffrench 5; M Kenny 6, S Furlong 6, P Cunningham 7. Subs: J McGrath 6 for D Boothman (h-t); P Traynor 6 for Ffrench (h-t), Paddy Byrne 6 for D Fitzgerald (57), Padraig Byrne for P Traynor (63)
Ref - B Cassidy (Derry)