Sunday 19 November 2017

Sheridan shows misfiring Laois attack how it's done

Meath 2-14 Laois 0-10

Craig Rogers of Laois goes down under pressure from Meath's Seamus Kenny in Tullamore last night. Photo: Paul Mohan
Craig Rogers of Laois goes down under pressure from Meath's Seamus Kenny in Tullamore last night. Photo: Paul Mohan

Dermot Crowe in Tullamore

Like they had done in the drawn match, Meath struck early, showed Laois a clean pair of heels, only this time they didn't relinquish the lead. A week ago they blew a five-point start.

Last night in Tullamore, Meath had that advantage restored by the interval and after the break they got even stronger. Five points flowered into nine. Game over.

Laois lost to Kildare by 15 points in the Leinster championship last year and while this wasn't as severe, it won't offer them much consolation. They began with some promise but shot seven costly first-half wides and found Donie Kingston bottled up, as Meath backs thrived in the tighter dimensions of O'Connor Park. The Laois attack scored three points from play and no player managed to score two. It is a damning statistic from a fine summer's evening made for attacking football.

Their problems were more pronounced at the back, however, and caused a huge haemorrhage of confidence. Cian Ward went past Cathal Ryan in the sixth minute and set up a goal for Joe Sheridan, who spread terror in the Laois defence. By the ninth minute, Laois were already looking under the hood. Denis Booth replaced Colm Begley, who struggled the first day on Graham Reilly, and took up station on Cian Ward. Ward quickly turned Booth too, who was grateful to see his shot for goal saved by Michael Nolan.

Before the half was complete Billy Sheehan had been sent in and the ailing Ryan relieved of further defensive duties. John O'Loughlin moved back on Reilly but fared no better, the Meath player embellishing a promising showing in the drawn game with two inspiring scores after half time, taking his total to four and widening the gap to eight points. Already, Laois looked doomed. Joe Sheridan more than matched Reilly's contribution with 2-2, his second coming before the interval after a high ball from Ward wasn't dealt with and he poked it home. As the second half wore on others like Shane O'Rourke also found their scoring groove.

The win sees them renew acquaintance with rivals Dublin next Sunday in the semi finals. They didn't emerge unscathed however. Their goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke was given a red card in the second half after he kicked out at McMahon. Mark Ward went off injured after 22 minutes and Mickey Burke followed him soon after with what looked a more serious wound. It will draw more on their resources, already stretched by the loss of Nigel Crawford. They would also welcome a revival in Stephen Bray's form; he was taken off scoreless.

Early promise from Sean Dempsey's team was spoiled by imperfect finishing. Kingston was among the culprits, suffering the shooting yips, taking until the 35th minute to land his first score, from a free, and not firing from play. Of their six first-half points, one was from captain Padraig McMahon, again doing his damndest to take the fight to Meath. They put on Padraig Clancy at the break but before he could offer assistance Meath had strengthened their grip. After the interval they won four Laois kick-outs in a row and scored points from each one.

Meath haven't played in a Leinster final since 2001 and two championship wins in succession have become a rare event, so this is a mark of some progress for a team that has been frequently banished to the qualifiers at an early stage since the backdoor's introduction nine years ago.

Scorers -- Meath: J Sheridan 2-2; G Reilly 0-4; S O'Rourke 0-3; C Ward 0-3 (0-1 f; 0-1 '45'); B Meade, C King 0-1. Laois: MJ Tierney 0-4 (0-3 fs); D Kingston 0-2 (0-2 fs); D Strong, C Healy, P McMahon, P O'Leary ('45') 0-1.

Meath: P O'Rourke; C O'Connor, K Reilly, E Harrington; A Moyles, M Burke, C King; B Meade, M Ward; S Kenny, S Bray, G Reilly; C Ward, J Sheridan, S O'Rourke.

Subs: C Gillespie for M Ward (inj 22); O Lewis for Burke (inj 25); G O'Brien for Moyles (half time); B Murphy for Brady (53); C McGuinness for Kenny (65).

Laois: M Nolan; M Timmon, P McMahon, C Ryan; C Healy, P O'Leary, C Begley; B Quigley, K Meaney; J O'Loughlin, C Rogers, D Strong; MJ Tierney, D Kingston, R Munnelly.

Subs: D Booth for Begley (9 mins); B Sheehan for Ryan (33); P Clancy for Strong (half time); P Lawlor for Rogers (50); D Rooney for Quigley (67).

Referee: M Condon (Waterford)

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