Sunday 21 January 2018

Laois hold brave Wicklow at bay

Laois 3-16 Wicklow 0-18

'Gareth Dillon of Laois tries to get past Wicklow’s Stephen Kelly during the Leinster SFC clash in O’Moore Park last night.' Photo: Matt Browne
'Gareth Dillon of Laois tries to get past Wicklow’s Stephen Kelly during the Leinster SFC clash in O’Moore Park last night.' Photo: Matt Browne
John O'Loughlin of Laois in action against Anthony McLoughlin of Wicklow Photo: Sportsfile
Dean Healy of Wicklow in action against Gary Walsh of Laois Photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

The Wicklow manager Johnny Magee declared himself proud of his team's efforts as they exited the Leinster Championship in the first round after a spirited performance in Portlaoise last night, but he was less pleased with the GAA's championship structure. "I will keep banging the drum and if I have to go and knock on Páraic Duffy's door, I will knock on Páraic Duffy's door," he said. "How long is it going to continue?"

Magee said experience was the main differential as Laois withstood an heroic challenge from their Division 4 opponents, adding that big-match exposure is what his team needs. "Imagine if we had that every two or three weeks instead of having to wait for six weeks until the next match?"

Wicklow blew a number of frees from scoreable range, particularly in the first half, and they didn't carry the same goal threat as the home team who they last beat in the championship in 1986. But they made up for those limitations with a typically gutsy show and Laois head into the quarter-finals against Dublin with plenty to fret over. "If we can score 18 points it's going to be very difficult for them," said Magee when asked of Laois's prospects in Nolan Park on June 4. "You would think Dublin could double that."

Ultimately, Donie Kingston sealed the Laois win, ending up with 1-6 but only becoming a telling influence in the later stages. His 68th minute goal, bookended by points, brought no productive response from Wicklow, ending the earlier pattern. Three times Laois led by six-point margins and Wicklow fought back to get within a point or two. The Laois defensive performance was abysmal and the recent acquisition of Anthony Cunningham might be most usefully served to improve their tackling skills. Time after time they gave away lazy and needless frees with heedless challenges.

John O'Loughlin offered a battering ram presence in the middle of the field and they had the pick of the evening's forwards, moving the ball about with an energy and cockiness their opponents couldn't quite match. Wicklow had only one late goal chance when the game was up. Laois could have had three more than they scored, but the Dublin game will be more about how they defend. And they do not defend well, structurally or technically.

The best midfielder on show was Wicklow's captain, Rory Finn, who scored six points, kicking frees with an unusual but generally effective style off his left and driving over two inspirational scores from play. Laois took a five-point lead, 1-10 to 0-8, into the half-time break. Early in the game Paul Cahillane's blistering shot skimmed the top of the crossbar and their first goal came in the eighth minute, a powerful finish from full forward Gary Walsh, after he took a pass from Darren Strong. Walsh had plenty of work to do but brushed past his opponent and blasted to the net.

By the 17th minute Laois were six points clear, Wicklow responding with three points in succession, one from their full back Paul McLoughlin. Laois responded with three of their own, before Dean Healy's point left five in it at the interval.

After O'Carroll was brilliantly denied a goal by Robert Lambert early in the second half, Wicklow found another gear. Four points were reeled off to reduce the Laois lead to a point. Sub Ruairi O'Connor banged in a goal 11 minutes into the second half, with O'Carroll adding another point and the gap widened to six for the third time. But Wicklow would not let go. Their inspiring midfielder Finn kicked two points and two more had the lead whittled down to two with 15 minutes left.

Two points from Kingston gave Laois breathing space but again Wicklow rallied, scores from sub John Crowe and corner back Arran Murphy trimming the lead to two again. The came Kington's telling late intervention and Laois were clear.

Scorers - Laois: D Kingston 1-6 (0-2 fs), G Walsh 1-1, E O'Carroll 0-4 (3f), R O'Connor 1-0, R Munnelly 0-2 (1 f), P Cahillane, J O'Loughlln, G Dillon 0-1. Wicklow: R Finn 0-6 (0-4 fs), P Cunningham 0-2 (2f), J McGrath 0-2 (1f), D Healy 0-2, D Hayden, P Byrne, P McLoughln, A McLoughlin, J Crowe, A Murphy 0-1.
Laois: G Brody; S Attride, M Timmons, P Cotter; D O'Connor, D Strong, G Dillon; J O'Loughlin, B Quigley; N Donoher, P Cahillane, E O'Carroll; R Munnelly, G Walsh, D Kingston.
Subs: M Campion for Donoher (inj half-time); R O'Connor for Mundanely (half-time); K Meaney for Campion (48); A Farrell for Dillon (55); E Keane for Walsh (61); J Farrell for O'Carroll (67).
Wicklow: R Lambert; C Hyland, P McLoughlin, A Murphy; C Murphy, D Healy, S Kelly; R Finn, N Gaffney; D Hayden, J McGrath, M Kenny; P Byrne, P Cunningham, M Lennon.
Subs: A McLoughlin for Gaffney (half-time); D Woods for Kenny (41 mins); P O'Connor for McGrath (43); J Crowe for Murphy (50); S Thompson for Byrne (56); G Allen for Lennon (66).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).

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