THE Walls of Derry were well and truly sacked by Laois yesterday as the Oak Leafers' six-game unbeaten run under new manager John Brennan was ended, in mortifying style, on home ground.
This expected top-of-the-table thriller turned out to be remarkably anti-climactic as Laois stormed Derry's home turf and, in footballing terms, gave them a serious hiding.
And after so-called 'Fortress Celtic Park' was completely ransacked, Derry's forthright boss Brennan didn't put a tooth in it.
"We got a bloody good lesson and we deserved it. Had Laois scored another 10 points, we couldn't have cried one thing about it," he said candidly.
"They didn't deliberately go out to have a bad game but I don't think we'd one player who justified the talent they have. Maybe the younger players got caught up in the occasion. We didn't carry the favourite's tag, no way!"
Derry were reduced to 14 men just seven minutes into the second half when Declan Mullan was sent off for a harsh enough second yellow. Coming just three minutes after Paddy Bradley had put a penalty over the bar, that was a double whammy from which they never recovered.
Brennan tried everything, making early switches and introducing Eoin Bradley, who made his return to football after a six-month suspension. But Laois continued to make them look foolish in all quarters and, frankly, the final scoreline flattered the losers.
Laois led by eight points at half-time (1-9 to 0-4) and had raced 15 points clear, despite MJ Tierney missing a great goal chance, before the home side got a generous second penalty for an off-the-ball foul in the 68th minute.
But Tierney's miss was a rare blip in his, and his team-mates', performance, and the only pity was that there were few Laois fans in a disappointingly small crowd (little over 1,000) to witness it.
Manager Justin McNulty was at pains afterwards to play down his side's dominance.
"We just had one of those days when everything went right while Derry had one where everything went wrong. I wouldn't read too much into it," he stressed, understandably fearing the sort of complacency that looked to have done in their opponents yesterday.
They were certainly guilty of conceding far too many frees early on and fortunate enough that Paddy Bradley, Conleth Gilligan and James Kielt in turn couldn't convert them from long-range.
But there's no doubt that the ex-Armagh star has already got Laois playing with the sort of work ethic and selflessness which helped win his native county an All-Ireland.
Despite having to reshuffle midfield before throw-in -- John O'Loughlin and Mark Timmons were injured, and Brendan Quigley suspended -- they bossed centrefield, where Colm Begley did well and Padraig Clancy was a man of the match contender.
Ten Laois players scored, including 0-5 from their half-back line, with 0-3 from play from excellent wing-back Darren Strong, who made the most of Derry's bizarrely loose marking to gallop upfield and score at will.
Their full-back line were less flamboyant but equally impressive. Gilligan's rich vein of form was firmly snuffed out by Denis Booth, Kevin Meaney did well on Paddy Bradley and Robert Kehoe excelled at corner-back.
They were greatly helped by their team-mates stifling the supply of any decent ball in and Niall Donoher did well throughout as an extra defender.
Even when Derry's attack improved with the introduction of Eoin Bradley and Caolan O'Boyle, the crowded Laois defence still held impressively firm.
And once ball was won they counter-attacked impressively, led up front by the ever busy Tierney and Billy Sheehan.
They didn't kick a wide until the 33rd minute and the piece de resistance of their economic attack came just 21 minutes in, when two of their veterans, Clancy and Ross Munnelly, combined to set up Paul Cahillane's brilliant early goal.
Munnelly's chipped through-ball was inch-perfect and the busy corner-forward looks really rejuvenated, embellishing a brilliant individual performance with four points from play.
As Laois's unbeaten run continues, what had been described as Brennan's 'inter-county honeymoon' is certainly over.
"It's a long time since my honeymoon was over, a man who has grandchildren!" the Derry boss chuckled in self-deprecation.
"Look, it's only a game of football. Laois deserved their victory and we've got a serious reality check but we've a McKenna Cup final next Saturday and hopefully we'll get our heads together and come back."
Man of the Match: Ross Munnelly (Laois).
Scorers -- Laois: MJ Tierney 0-5 (3f), R Munnelly 0-4, P Cahillane 1-0, D Strong 0-3, D Carroll 0-3 (2f), B Sheehan 0-2, S Julian, C Boyle, C Begley and N Donoher 0-1 each. Derry: P Bradley 1-3 (2 penalties, 2f), C Gilligan 0-2 (2f), J Kielt and E Bradley 0-1 each.
Laois -- M Nolan 8; R Kehoe 9, K Meaney 8, D Booth 7; D Strong 9, S Julian 8, C Boyle 7; C Begley 8, P Clancy 9; N Donoher 8, D Carroll 8, P Cahillane 8; R Munnelly 9, B Sheehan 8; MJ Tierney 9. Subs: G Kavanagh 6 for Cahillane (49), M Finlay 6 for Sheehan (59), C Coss 7 for Clancy (63), C Healy for Kehoe (66), D Brennan for Munnelly (66).
Derry -- M Conlon 5; D McBride 5, K McCloy 5, B McCallion 5; C Kielt 5, B McGoldrick 5, G O'Kane 6; PJ McCloskey 6, N Holly 5; J Kielt 5, SL McGoldrick 6, D Mullan 5; C McGoldrick 5, P Bradley 7, C Gilligan 5. Subs: J Conway 5 for Holly (22), C O' Boyle 6 for J Kielt (31), E Bradley 6 for SL McGoldrick (40), E McGuckian 6 for C McGoldrick (51), M Donaghy 5 for Gilligan (62).
Ref -- M Higgins (Armagh).