Tuesday 16 January 2018

McNulty stays grounded after Laois cruise

PERHAPS it was the looming Division 1 campaign that gave Laois a greater sense of urgency, or maybe Wexford just couldn't shake the malaise that accompanies a final in this competition on a miserable day at Wexford Park.

Afterwards, Laois boss Justin McNulty couldn't play down the significance of the performance enough as his side controlled proceedings from Paul Cahillane's third-minute goal to the final whistle.

But there were significant positives for the midlanders, who welcome Mayo to Portlaoise on Saturday night to kick off their return to the top flight. Led by Kieran Lillis at full-back, Laois defended superbly, repeatedly turning Wexford over.

It was the 68th minute before a Wexford player other than Ben Brosnan pointed from play, and Laois held the home side scoreless for long periods -- the Model men were somewhere between the inept and the luckless.

Even Paddy Byrne's fortuitous goal, when he palmed to the net after Brosnan's free had dropped under the crossbar shortly before the break, couldn't shake them from their slumber, and Laois replied with two points before the interval to ensure a healthy six-point lead at half-time (1-9 to 1-3).

That margin might have been even bigger. Wexford goalkeeper Anthony Masterson lost sight of a dropping ball that ended up in his net, only for the score to be ruled out for a square-ball infringement.

Recognising that his side needed renewed vigour, manager Jason Ryan made a triple substitution on the half-hour mark.

It didn't have the desired effect as the second half followed a similar pattern, but as the heavy pitch took its toll on the legs, the error count went up. Wexford kicked nine second-half wides, many of them from well within range, to Laois' four.

David Conway, brother of former county captain Chris, had led the line excellently in the first half with five points, but this was a team effort from Laois, who had 10 different scorers, with Lillis, John O'Loughlin and Peter O'Leary all in good form.

"It's the O'Byrne Shield," said McNulty afterwards. "We won't be reading anything into that and Wexford won't be reading anything into it.

"Next week is where it is at. On Saturday evening we really have to put a performance in against Mayo and that's what we are looking at. This was a warm-up competition and that's what teams use it for.

"There were elements of the performance that were pleasing but we can't rest on our laurels and say we are there.

"There were too many mistakes, too many turnovers and too many missed chances. So there is a serious amount of work to do coming up against a Mayo team who have been knocking on the door and are serious contenders for the All-Ireland."

Wexford's Ciaran Lyng made a brief appearance after his hip injury and came through unscathed.

Dual star Lee Chin didn't feature yesterday but looks set to throw his lot in with the county's footballers, though Stephen Banville is struggling to combine the two and his future with the football squad remains in doubt.

Wexford take on Cavan, who had manager Val Andrews in the stand, on Sunday, with Ryan admitting that his side will place a renewed emphasis on the league this time around. Last year's Leinster finalists ply their trade in Division 3.

"We prepared and we came here to win it but we were well off the pace," he said.

"It's disappointing, but with the league starting so soon we don't have time to sit around. We have to get organised and make sure we are as well prepared as we can be for Cavan next Sunday."

SCORERS -- Laois: D Conway 0-5 (2f), P Cahillane 1-0, R Munnelly (2f), D O'Connor 0-2 each, C Boyle, P O'Leary, D Strong, J O'Loughlin, P Clancy (1f), S O'Leary 0-1 each Wexford: B Brosnan 0-5 (3f), P Byrne 1-0, C Lyng 0-1.

Laois -- E Culliton; C Healy, K Lillis, P O'Leary; D Strong, S Julian, C Boyle; J O'Loughlin, B Quigley; R Munnelly, K Meaney, D O'Connor; P Cahillane, P Clancy, D Conway Subs: C Begley for Quigley (48), Colm Kelly for Cahillane (55), B Mulligan for Boyle (56), MJ Tierney for Conway (63), S O'Leary for O'Connor (65).

Wexford -- A Masterson; T Hayden, G Molloy, A Shore; D Murphy, B Malone, A Doyle; D Waters, R Quinlivan; B Brosnan, S Roche, E Bradley; K O'Grady, J Holmes, P Byrne Subs: B Mulligan for Hayden (30), R Barry for S Roche (30), P Kellly for O'Grady (30), A Shore for Waters (51), C Lyng for Bradley (55).

Ref -- F Barry (Kildare).

Irish Independent

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