MAIN MAN - Graham Brody (Laois)
Incredible. Simply incredible. The Portlaoise netminder has attracted headlines and interest from across the country for his propensity for galloping out the field and starting Laois attacks. It was generally greeted with whimsy from the wider public, who failed to see how important a tactic it was for Laois, or how many attacks began because Brody helped to create an overlap and get Laois moving forward.
What was lost in the talk about the merits of his sojourns forward was just how good he is at the goalkeeping basics, chief among them his shot-stopping. He made some incredible saves in the Leinster final against Dublin, but he took it to another level in Navan.
He made six top-class saves, three in each half, with the highlights being the stop from Conor McCarthy just after the Laois goal, and a diving block on Karl O'Connell in the second half.
There has been a lot of talk about whether Brody should get an All-Star nomination this year. The question, in truth, should be who could deny him the award itself? Not only has he redefined what a goalkeeper can bring to a team, he has also proven himself to be without peers in the basics of the craft.
Recency bias will probably see a 'keeper from the Super 8's get the award when the decision is eventually made, but if that does happen, it will be a shame. To distill the argument down to the basics - there isn't another goalkeeper in the country that comes close to Brody on this year's form.
On plenty of occasions in recent years, we have had cause to question to the character or desire in the Laois panel. Games had been surrendered meekly and it seemed we were perhaps guilty of expecting too much of them.
This year has shown that there is character and desire in abundance in this panel, they just needed the right person there to unlock it. After the steady years of decline since the All-Ireland quarter-final appearance of 2012, Laois made a huge leap forward this year. They won ten games in a row, played three games in Croke Park, and slugged it out with both Dublin and Monaghan in high-pressure games.
John Sugrue deserves huge credit for what he has done this year, but so too do the players. If we criticise them on bad days, it's only right to apportion credit on the good days too. They could have crumbled on any number of occasions in Navan, but they kept attacking, kept tackling, kept fighing.
Above all else, that's what supporters ask for, and let the result be what it may after that.
It was wonderful to be back on the road following a Laois team with a sense of hope. The nucleus of this squad is still relatively young, so there's no reason not to believe there won't be more good days ahead.
Hard to pinpoint it to any exact moment in the game, but what really stunted Laois' efforts to gain momentum in the first half was how clinical Monaghan were. For about 20 or 25 minutes, it just seemed like they couldn't miss.
On the five occasions Laois scored in the first half, Monaghan got the next score every time, denying Laois the chance to build any momentum and get themselves back into the game. It was very impressive on their part, and something which Laois will have to take note of as they look to improve ahead of next year.
Derek O'Mahoney from Tipperary was in charge of this one, and in truth he did fine. Laois were probably a little lucky not to see Brian Glynn red-carded before half time for what was a wild swing of the boot at the ball as Colin Walshe went down to pick it up.
The Monaghan crowd booed him for that decision as he made his way off the field at half time, but he handled the game reasonably well overall, and the decision to play six minutes of added time wasn't a bad one for a Laois side trying to cause a late upset.
Take any of Graham Brody's saves, because they were all stunning. After that, while it may have been a Monaghan man that got it, Conor McManus' point from way out on the left wing in the 25th minute was a stunning score. There aren't many players in the country that would even take it on, never mind score it, and the Clontibret man deserves a doff of the cap for that score.
While we're on the subject of McManus, kudos to Gareth Dillon for what was a fine display in keeping him quiet in the overall scheme of things. McManus got three from play, but two of those were outstanding points Dillon could do little about, and the other came after Dillon had slipped and McManus got away from him. The Portlaoise man did superbly overall.
The first half was frustrating to watch, because you knew Laois were better than they were showing, but they just couldn't hold off a rampant Monaghan side who were scoring with nearly every shot they took. They did well to get the gap down to seven points at half time when it looked as though Monaghan would lead by double-digits for most of the half.
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