Laois senior footballers put themselves within 70 minutes of an All-Ireland quarter-final after they ground out a two-point win over Wexford on Saturday night.
In a game high in tension rather than quality, it was Laois’ greater economy in turning possession into scores which ultimately guided them home. Wexford had enough chances to win comfortably, but they hit wide after wide, while Laois showed at the other end how to work scores when you needed them.
Once Laois took the lead with 20 minutes to go they kept their noses just in front for the remainder, finding a score every time Wexford got within one point of them.
Justin McNulty will have been happy with the character shown by his side, but he will know well enough that a repeat of this performance next weekend won’t suffice.
Laois could have been out of the game by half time, as Wexford had hit twelve wides. They added four more in the second half, as well as three shots into Eoin Culliton’s grateful arms, while the Timahoe man also made an excellent save to deny them a goal.
In total, it was 20 chances which went amiss for Wexford, and with the Donegal unlikely to be so generous this Saturday evening, Laois will have to tighten things up at the back if they are to make successive quarter-finals.
The win wasn’t all down to Wexford’s profligacy, however, and there were plenty of positives to take for Laois. Chief among those was the performance of Evan O’Carroll, with the Crettyard teenager making an impressive debut. He got Laois’ opening point and worked tirelessly throughout, be it either tackling or trying to take on his marker.
He showcased that early on too, as he fired over the bar after showing impressive strength to hold off Graeme Molloy and point off his left foot. PJ Banville had opened the scoring after 18 seconds for Wexford, and they retook the lead after O’Carroll’s effort thanks to a point from Aindreas Doyle.
Laois took over for a five minute spell after that to rattle off three points, all from frees. David Conway provided two of them and Ross Munnelly the other as Laois went two ahead, before Wexford hit two goals in three minutes. The first came when Laois coughed up possession in midfield and Redmond Barry pinged a long ball to Ciaran Lyng, who raced clear to set up PJ Banville, and he rolled home from close range.
Ross Munnelly pointed moments later to level it once again, but Laois sabotaged themselves for a second time. Eoin Culliton inexplicably took a shot kick-out to Kieran Lillis, who was tightly marked, and Laois were on the back foot straight away. They struggled to retain possession and a misplaced pass allowed Wexford to break through and Adrian Flynn applied the finish to put them 2-2 to 0-5 ahead.
Two points in as many minutes from Ciaran Lyng pushed them into a fiv epoint lead after 22 minutes, but they shot wide after wide from there to half time.
Laois, meanwhile, slowly but surely chipped away at the lead. Ross Munnelly pointed a free from 35 yards out before adding another from play, and then his good work allowed Colm Begley to score a right-footed shot. Munnelly then rounded off the scoring for the half when he pointed a free after Evan O’Carroll was fouled, and Laois were only one down at half time, 2-4 to 0-9.
Conor Carty gave Wexford the ideal start to the second half with a point in the second minute, but Laois wasted little time in drawing level. Good work from John O’Loughlin allowed Laois to break and Colm Begley pointed, with David Conway adding a free to tie the game at 2-5 to 0-11.
Ciaran Lyng and Ross Munnelly traded points before a wonderful save from Eoin Culliton denied Paddy Byrne a goal for Wexford. Three minutes later Laois took the lead thanks to another point from Begley, and they would hold the lead until the final whistle.
Donie Kingston, in as a substitute, won a free thanks to adriving run in from the left wing, and Ross Munnelly applied the finish,
Ciaran Lyng responded for Wexford to get them within one, but again Munnelly held his nerve from a free to restore the two point gap.
As the game entered its dying minutes, Lyng again pointed for Wexford but Colm Kelly’s point, which should have been a goal when his shot from four yards was somehow defelcted over, was the final score of the game as Laois ran out two point winners to seal their place in the next round.
SCORERS - Laois: Ross Munnelly 0-8 (0-5 frees), David Conway (frees), Colm Begley 0-3 each, Evan O’Carroll, Colm Kelly 0-1 each; Wexford: Ciaran Lyng 0-5 (0-2 frees), PJ Banville 1-1, Adrian Flynn 1-0, Aindreas Doyle, Conor Carty 0-1 each.
LAOIS: Eoin Culliton; Paul Begley, Mark Timmons, Peter O’Leary; Darren Strong, Padraig McMahon, Kieran Lillis; Padraig Clancy, John O’Loughlin; Ross Munnelly, Billy Sheehan, Colm Begley; Conor Meredith, Evan O’Carroll, David Conway. Subs: Conor Boyle for Clancy (44 mins), Donie Kingston for Conway (50 mins), Stephen Attride for Timmons (57 mins), Colm Kelly for O’Carroll (63 mins), Denis Booth for Lillis (65 mins)
WEXFORD: Anthony Masterson; Michael Furlong, Graeme Molloy, Robert Tierney; Brian Malone, David Murphy, Adrian Flynn; Daithi Waters, Rory Quinlivan; Conor Carty, Redmond Barry, Aindreas Doyle; Ciaran Lyng, Paddy Byrne, PJ Banville. Subs: Ben Brosnan for Doyle (41 mins), James Holmes for Tierney (57 mins), Shane Roche for Banville (62 mins), Kevin Gore for Byrne (65 mins), Sean Culleton for Gore (68 mins - injured)
Referee: Ciaran Brannagan (Down)