It was far from straight-forward but crucially Laois relievedly held off resurgent hosts Clare to record what could yet be a campaign-defining minimum victory in Ennis on Sunday afternoon.
Allianz National Football League Division 2 Round 4
Supporters had to endure the full spectrum of emotions as Mike Quirke’s side soared eight points clear by the half hour mark, only to be hanging on for a finish as the home side threw everything at them in an exceedingly anxious run-in.
In truth, despite Clare’s profligacy in front of the posts that eventually amounted to 12 wides, Laois deservedly prevailed having dominated the opening period with the aid of the conditions.
A stuttering new half did threaten to derail those previous heights but it was a case of all’s well that end’s well, having dug deep to protect the points.
What a first half it proved to be however as the Leinster side banished any hangover from their ten point defeat to Cavan seven days earlier to hit the ground running on Sunday.
Targetman Evan O’Carroll began the surge with three of the first four points before Colm Murphy and the evergreen Ross Munnelly carved out a 0-5 to 0-2 advantage by the end of the opening quarter.
By that stage, a frustrated Clare had kicked five wides, with Laois taking full advantage when grabbing the opening goal in the 21st minute in unorthodox circumstances. It stemmed from a teasing Damien O’Connor delivery over the top that saw O’Carroll’s effort repelled by advancing goalkeeper Stephen Ryan. The rebound fell kindly to Colm Murphy but even that was deflected before being bundled the ball over the line at the second attempt at 1-5 to 0-2.
With that, a momentum-fuelled Laois fleshed out the margin to eight by the 29th minute thanks to three of the next four points through Murphy, the lively Eoin Lowry and Munnelly.
So while Clare did bounce back off the ropes with late points from Eoin Cleary and David Tubridy, Laois were still firmly in control of their own destiny by the break at 1-8 to 0-5.
The only way was up for a lacklustre Clare and they duly came out fighting, with experienced duo Cleary and Tubridy adding a further brace each to lower the arrears to just three by the turn of the final quarter at 1-9 to 0-9.
Laois’ luck appeared to be on the wane as increased indiscipline coupled with a Sean Byrne shot that cannoned off the underside of the crossbar left them still searching for a first score in over 20 minutes.
Fittingly, it was Ross Munnelly that stopped the rot with back-to-back points entering the final ten minutes at 1-11 to 0-9 as along with defiant displays from Kieran Lillis and Trevor Collins, Laois seemed to have weathered the storm. Clare refused to adhere to the script though and grabbed a late lifeline when a footblock on Eoin Cleary earned a 65th minute penalty that David Tubridy cooly nestled in the top right corner of the net to slash the deficit to just one.
An understandably tense finale ensued as goalkeeper Niall Corbet and Eoin Cleary traded points before Clare passed up a brace of frees in injury-time to hand Laois a famous win.
*See Tuesday's Leinster Express for full coverage
Scorers: Colm Murphy 1-2, Ross Munnelly 0-4 (0-2 frees), Evan O'Carroll 0-3 (0-1 free, 0-1 mark), Eoin Lowry 0-2, Niall Corbett 0-1 (0-1 '45)
Team: Niall Corbet (Clonaslee St Manman's); Cahir Healy (Portlaoise), Mark Timmons (Graiguecullen), Gearoid Hanrahan (Mountmellick); Paddy O’Sullivan (Portarlington), Robbie Pigott (Portarlington), Trevor Collins (Graiguecullen); John O’Loughlin (Rosenallis), Kieran Lillis (Portlaoise); Damien O'Connor (Timahoe), Eoin Lowry (Killeshin), Sean Byrne (Portarlington); Ross Munnelly (Arles-Kilcruise), Colm Murphy (Portarlington), Evan O’Carroll (Crettyard). Subs: Brian Byrne (Graiguecullen) for Pigott (12-20 mins, Blood Sub), Byrne for Healy (26 mins, inj), Michael Keogh (St Joseph’s) for O'Connor (49 mins), Benny Carroll (Portlaoise) for Byrne (51 mins), Mark Barry (O’Dempsey’s) for Murphy (62 mins)
Scorers: David Tubridy 1-4 (1-0 penalty, 0-3 frees, 0-1 '45), Eoin Cleary 0-4 (0-1 free, 0-1 '45), Gearoid O'Brien 0-1, Pearse Lillis 0-1, Cathal O'Connor 0-1.
Team: Stephen Ryan (Kilrush Shamrocks); Kevin Harnett (Meelick), Cillian Brennan (Clondegad), Gordon Kelly (St Joseph's Miltown); Pearse Lillis (Cooraclare), Sean Collins (Cratloe), Alan Sweeney (St Breckan's); Dale Masterson (St Breckan's), Cathal O’Connor (Coolmeen); Dermot Coughlan (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Keelan Sexton (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Cian O’Dea (Kilfenora); Eoin Cleary (St Joseph's Miltown), David Tubridy (Doonbeg), Gearoid O’Brien (Kilrush Shamrocks). Subs: Eamonn Tubridy (Doonbeg) for Ryan (24 mins, inj), Cormac Murray (St Joseph's Miltown) for O'Brien (Half-Time), Emmet McMahon (Kildysart) for Masterson (Half-Time), Joe McGann (St Breckan's) for Sexton (56 mins), Eoghan Collins (Ballyhaunis, Mayo) for Harnett (63 mins)
REFEREE: Liam Devenney (Mayo)