LEINSTER MFC - Laois hang on to book semi spot
If games of this quality were on show at O'Moore Park every weekend, the struggling Parkside apartment complex which overlooks the county grounds would soon be at full capacity.
SCORERS - Laois: Paul Kingston 0-5 (four frees), Dale Byrne 0-4 (one free), Jamie Farrell 0-3, Damien O'Connor and Daryl Hayden 0-2 each, Shane McCauley 0-1; Wicklow: Conor McGraynor 0-8 (seven frees), Michael Mangan 1-0 (pen), Shane O'Rourke 0-2, Aaron Murphy ('45), Daniel Keane and Steven Olohan 0-1 each
Laois advanced to the Leinster minor semi-finals with the narrowest of victories over a dogged Wicklow side that the hosts found impossible to shake off, and had it not been for the assured goalkeeping of Laois stopper Graham Brody, the visitors could well have been snatched a shock win in this thoroughly entertaining clash in Portlaoise on Saturday evening.
Conditions could hardly have been any better as the teams took to the immaculate sun-soaked pitch, and right from the off the pace of the game was as blistering as the weather. Wicklow's beanpole midfielder Conor McGraynor got the scoreboard turning almost immediately when his huge kick from a free on the 45' yard line sailed over the bar. McGraynor's huge kicks would be one of the trademarks of this tie, some deadly accurate, others woefully at the other end of the spectrum, but in the early stages at least, his dead-ball prowess posed a significant problem for Denis Lalor's side.
Shane McCauley responded in a flash, getting in the end of a delicate Paul Kingston pass to notch Laois' opening score. The Portarlington man had been a doubt for this game with a groin injury, but he dispelled any fitness doubts with this early darting run and clever finish, but no sooner had the Laois supporters completed their applause than Conor McGraynor had restored the Wicklow lead with another free.
Paul Kingston notched the first of his four frees of the evening and with the scoring rate continuing at a rate of one a minute, further efforts from Kingston, two McGraynor frees and a superb Dale Byrne score left the scores at four apiece after eight minutes.
The much-maligned hand-pass rule was a source of fierce criticism across the country over the past week, and the new directive reared its ugly head early on in this encounter too. Laois midfielder Jamie Farrell was the first of many to be blown for the failure to make a 'definite underhand striking action', and McGraynor duly converted to edge his side ahead.
Wicklow were enjoying the early dominance in midfield with their busy half-forward line picking up the breaking balls, but the Laois men dug deep and midway through the opening half they finally started to click. Niall Mullen's free found towering full-forward Darryl Hayden whos quickly offloaded pass left Jamie Farrell to tap over and his score was the first of four unanswered points for the hosts towards the end of a pulsating opening half hour.
Wicklow lost the considerable presence of Sean Ryder who was forced off with a hamstring injury and Laois quickly exploited the gaps left by his absence. Paul Kingston reacted quickly to fist over a Shane McAuley effort, and a minute later Adam Ryan's blistering run through the middle left Damien O'Connor in space to fire over a beautiful score. Jamie Farrell then tapped over his second and as the first half drew to an end Laois appeared to be well in control.
Wicklow's only response came courtesy of a Shane O'Rourke point but Laois were buzzing and only the dreaded hand-pass rule denied further scoring opportunities. The home crowd were already growing frustrated at referee Brendan Hickey’s strict determination of the rules before two questionable decisions against the home side led to a chorus of boos as he made his way to the dressing rooms at half time.
Firstly, Paul Kingston broke free and played a seemingly legitimate handpass across the goal to Darryl Hayden but the Kildare official felt that Kingston had not followed the new handpass guidelines. To compound that decision, Hickey immediately awarded a very dubious penalty to Wicklow when Liam Kearney was deemed to have unfairly impeded Niall Meldon as the pair contested a high sideline ball. Contentious or not, Michael Mangan stepped up to dispatch the spot-kick under Graham Brody to leave Laois trailing by a point at the break.
Having been behind by one against Louth at half-time in their championship opener, Laois showed little sign of panic as the second period commenced but Wicklow started brightly and substitute Daniel Keane doubled their advantage from their first attack. Laois however were soon back on track.
Paul Kingston tapped over a straightforward free in the fifth minute and excellent pressure from Darryl Hayden on floundering Wicklow keeper Paul Miley earned possession for Dale Byrne to equalise. The Laois men were oozing confidence at this stage and with just under ten minutes of the second half gone, Daryl Hayden drew another foul that Byrne again slotted over.
With the lead back in their hands, Laois looked to pull away from their gritty opponents. Adam Ryan worked tirelessly all evening and more great work from the Laois captain left Byrne to score under pressure to increase the lead to two points. At the other end, Wicklow seemed to have lost their way and squandered some excellent chances to keep in touch. Shane O’Rourke inexplicably elected to drill a low shot towards the goals when the point seemed to be the obvious option, and then a horribly miscued Daniel Keane shot again let Laois off the hook, much to the visible annoyance of one of Wicklow’s management who vented his frustration at the innocent advertising hoardings.
The Laois forwards were causing no such outbursts from their minders as they proved much more clinical and Darryl Hayden, just as he did against Louth, started to show his footballing ability with a well-taken score after a clever ball in from Dale Byrne. Hayden’s first score of the game put three between the sides, and although substitute Steven Olohan temporarily reduced that with a nice point from wide on the left, Laois again responded impressively.
Hayden swept a lovely score over with his left boot before Laois finally benefitted from the hand-pass rule to leave Paul Kingston with a free that he assuredly tapped over to stretch the lead to four. Emo’s Evan Costello quickly made an impression by expertly fielding a Wicklow goal-kick and finding Damien O’Connor who made no mistake to add to the lead and Laois looked to have finally quelled the Wicklow resistance. But Wicklow weren’t ready to throw in the towel, and Conor McGraynor’s free with five minutes to go signalled a comeback that almost caught Laois cold on the warmest day of the year.
Graham Brody got across well to beat out Shane O’Rourke’s low shot and the Portlaoise net-minder bettered that moments later when he clawed away Mikey Healy’s dangerously looping effort. McGraynor added two further frees in the dying stages and although a lovely interchanging move involving Adam Ryan, Dale Byrne and Jamie Farrell left the latter in for a beautifully worked point, two points in the last two minutes from McGraynor and an Aaron Murphy ’45 ensured a nail-biting end, but Murphy’s score was the last action of the match, and Laois survived to advance to the semi-finals.
LAOIS: Graham Brody; Shane Murphy, Liam Kearney, Ruairi Dunne; Padraig McEvoy, James Bolton, Keith Bracken; Jamie Farrell, Adam Ryan; Niall Mullen, Dale Byrne, Damien O’Connor; Shane McCauley, Daryl Hayden, Paul Kingston. Subs: Mark Dowling for Bolton (41 mins), Evan Costello for Mullen (47 mins), Jason Campion for Byrne (58 mins)
WICKLOW: Paul Miley; Paudie O’Toole, Philip O’Connor, John Manley; Brendan Swords, Sean Ryder, Jimmy Kelly; Conor McGraynor, John Henderson; Aaron Murphy, Michael Mangan, Paddy Crowley; Shane O’Rourke, Niall Meldon, Paddy O’Rourke. Subs: Daniel Keane for Ryder (14 mins - injured), Steven Murphy for Swords (30 mins), Steven Olohan for P O’Rourke (38mins), Mikey Healy for Paddy Crowley (53mins).
Referee: Brendan Hickey (Kildare)
Main Man - Adam Ryan (Laois)
A few contenders for this one, with arguments to be made for Graham Brody, Keith Bracken and Dale Byrne, but Adam Ryan played the captain’s role time and time again with strong defensive grafting and quick offensive plays. Always on hand to relieve the mounting pressure near the end and worked tirelessly to ensure his chances of lifting the Leinster crown remain intact.
The introduction of the new hand-pass directive caused problems at even the highest level last weekend, and Brendan Hickey was extremely strict in his interpretation of the rule in this game. Perhaps the hostile reception he was subjected to at half-time mellowed his stance somewhat, but in the first-half the momentum of the game was certainly hindered by this controversial ruling.
Score of the Match
There was a number of top-drawer scores throughout, but Dale Byrne’s point in the early stages of the game was one of real quality. He surged forward shrugging off the attentions of his marker before exchanging a neat one-two with Paul Kingston and directing a beautifully executed shot straight over the bar.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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Temperature: 12 C to 17 C
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