And so, it was a disappointing end to top flight football for Laois in O’Moore Park on Sunday. You could be very critical of Laois, but I think it would be a very cheap shot.
We, and I, have complained when Laois went out and played with a blanket defence and seemed to have no plan whatsoever, but during the first twenty minutes on Sunday, there were positives.
When Laois had all the play, however, they were guilty of some very poor efforts on goal, and this was the same the Sunday before against Kerry. At this level you can’t afford to be missing these opportunities, and when Down did get up the field they seemed to be a lot more comfortable in front of goal. The first goal that Laois conceded reminded me of the goal against Mayo; it was just unfortunate, but it was a game changer.
With the championship only around the corner and Longford unbeaten and gaining promotion, Laois will have to start getting their house in order. I do think, and it should be said, that in the last two games they have changed from what we had seen in earlier games, and we should not knock them for this. The only way you are going to win games is by creating chances and then being able to take them.
Confidence is a big issue with any player, especially forwards, and we ended up on Sunday with five different free-takers. I did think taking off Gary Walsh was a bit harsh, he kicked a free and 45 in the first half which was not a bad return. In the end it looked as if players were nearly fighting over handy frees near the end of the game just to get on the score sheet. This has to be sorted out.
Our goalkeeper once again saved a lot of blushes with three outstanding saves that at least kept us in the game. An area that really needs work, however, is kickouts; both our own and the oppositions. Down won every one of their kickouts in the first half by allowing their goalkeeper to put the ball into space. We, on the other hand, struggled to win possession.
Breaking ball is another area that we have to work on, and to win breaking ball you have to be willing to get in there and maybe receive a thump every now and then. Wing-backs and wing-forwards were always the guys expected to do this and it has not changed that much, so if you are not winning this kind of ball, the players in these positions have to take the blame and work hard on this area.
What have Laois learnt from top flight football? The answer will be forthcoming in the championship against Longford. In certain games it is true to say that we did not even turn up, while the highlight performances were against Kerry and Donegal. However, at this level you will not survive on hit-and-miss performances.
On Sunday our attempts on killing the ball were punished by Down on nearly every occasion, whether it was dropping the ball into the goalkeeper’s hands or passes going astray. The best example of this was in the second half for Down’s second goal. Laois were in a good attacking position only to give the ball away cheaply. Down moved the ball up the field at lightning pace and the ball ended up in the back of the net, and with 15 minutes to go the game was over.
You may get away with this in the lower divisions but to be successful at the top level this is totally unacceptable. When all is said and done, it would have been great to have maintained our Division 1 status, but to return there next year, players are going to have to take on a lot more responsibility.