Laois battle back from 10 points down to overhaul Wexford in extra time in remarkable Leinster SFC opener
Laois 2-21 Wexford 1-18 (After extra time)
The 2018 Leinster championship began with a bang in Wexford Park tonight when Division 4 champions Laois eventually saw off the challenge of the home side after a dramatic encounter which went to extra time.
Man of the match Donie Kingston hit 1-6 – including a late penalty – which ultimately decided the issue though Wexford looked to have won the match deep in injury time when Donal Shanley pointed a penalty but with the last kick of normal time Laois defender Gareth Dillon earned the visitors a dramatic 75th minute reprieve.
Aided by the breeze Wexford completely dominated the first half – they were three points up after just four minutes with late replacement John Tubritt making an immediate impact. He ended the half as the top scorer from play with a 0-3 contribution.
Even though they had an abundance of possession Laois couldn't cope with Wexford's massed defence – when they lost possession with the home side pulled 12 players behind the ball.
Midway through the first period Wexford were six points clear while Laois had registered five wides and also missed a decent goal chance in the 14th minute when David Conway's shot was smothered by Conor Swaine.
Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody joined his colleagues on a couple of forays up the field and the visitors looked to have secured a penalty in the 23rd minute when team captain Stephen Attride appeared to have been tripped in the penalty area. But after consulting with his umpires, referee Martin McNally hopped the ball.
Laois ultimately were awarded a free in which veteran Ross Munnelly converted to cut the deficit to six points (0-8; 0-2) but immediately afterwards Wexford hit a key score when the Rossiter brothers from Rosslare, Tiernan and centre back Naomhan combined before the latter found the Laois net from close range.
Laois had another penalty appeal turned down and they failed to score from play in the first half. So Wexford – despite losing Paul Curtis and full back Jim Rossiter to injury in the first half – led 1-10 to 0-3 at the break.
There was much more urgency in the Laois play immediately as they won the first four Wexford kickouts and hit three unanswered points before goalkeeper Graham Brody brilliant tipped a pile driver from Wexford substitute Tiernan Rossister around the post.
Donal Shanley did convert the resultant 45 but Laois got the next three points to narrow the gap to six points after 47 minutes. The gap was down to four with 20 minutes of normal time remaining as Laois turned the screw relentlessly with Donie Kington and Ross Munnelly doing most the damage.
Ultimately, the contest climaxed in a thrilling finish. John Tubett's fifth point from play in the 67th minute looked destined to send Wexford into the next round. But Laois were then awarded a very dubious for a foul on substitute Niall Donoher. Donie Kingston calmly slotted the kick to tie up the scores for the first time since the start. But the drama was far from finished in the third minute of the allocated four minutes of injury time Wexford's Brian Malone was hauled down in the opposite penalty area by Stephen Attride.
Predictably, Donal Shanley opted to kick the penalty over the bar but as the contest ticked into the fifth minute of injury time the referee allowed one more chance. Goalkeeper Graham Brody again joined the fray but it was corner-back Gareth Dillon who held his nerve to kick the equaliser and send the contest into extra time.
Laois dominated the first half of extra time with midfielder Kieran Lillis scoring a 74th minute goal to help the home side to a five point interval lead (2-18; 1-16). They controlled the second half of extra time as well to win an absorbing tie by six points and advance to a quarter final clash against Westmeath.
The Wexford players wore a one-off retro jersey specially designed to mark the county winning four All-Ireland football titles in a row, the centenary of which is being celebrated this year – even though the 1918 All-Ireland final wasn't played until February 2019 due to the political unrest in Ireland at the time.
Prior to the throw-in last night a special commemorative plaque was unveiled at the rear of the main stand while the original All-Ireland trophy 'The Great Southern and Western Railway Cup' won by Wexford in 1915-18 was on display.
Wexford: C Swaine; M Furlong, J Rossiter, C Carty; G Malone (0-1), N Rossiter (1-0), S Doyle (0-1), B Malone, D Waters (0-1), J Stafford (0-1), E Nolan, B Brosnan, P Curtis, J Tubritt (0-5), D Shanley (0-8, 6f, 1 45 1 pen). Subs: T Rossiter for Curtis 11m; A Nolan for J Rossiter 35m; E Porter for Brosnnan 50m, N Doyle for Stafford 59m, N Doyle for Stafford 59m; B O'Gorman for S Doyle 69m. ET J Stafford for O'Gorman 78m, D Shannon for T Rossister 78m; D Pepper (0-1) for Alan 80m;
Laois: G Brody; R Fennell, M Timmons, G Dillon (0-1); T Collins (0-1), C Begley, S Attride (0-2); J O'Loughlin, K Lillis (1-0); A Farrell, D Kingston (1-6, 1-0 pen, 3f), D O'Connor; R Munnelly (0-5, 3f), D Conway (0-1), G Walsh (0-1, 1f). Subs: B Carroll for Walsh ht; N Donoher for Farrell 47m; P Kingston (0-3) for Fennell 50m, D Strong (0-1) for Conway 59m, T Shiel for Munnelly 66m. ET; F Crowley for O'Connor 75m; D Booth for Dillon 86m, D Holland for Collins 88m
Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan)