By Denis J. Croke
WITH a 15 point lead entering the final quarter in Carrick-on-Shannon on Sunday Laois looked to be cruising to the second win in this year’s National Football League.
But how that was to change over the next 15 minutes or so.
Leitrim hit Portlaoise on the break when a move forward initiated by goalkeeper Graham Brody broke down deep in Leitrim territory. The vociferous home support revelled in the goalkeeper’s plight as he raced back down the field.
But the ball was quicker and ended with a goal palmed home by substitute Darragh Rooney.
However, manager John Sugrue was quick to absolve the goalkeeper of any responsibility for the goal saying he had delivered a perfect pass which was fumbled by a forward.
Within seven minutes of that 22nd minute goal Leitrim raised two more flags and that could have been three but for a brave save by Brody at the feet of a Leitrim forward.
They also tacked on four points showing Laois that they will have to be competitive for the full 70 minutes plus in every game they play.
Laois had wasted no time in getting the scoreboard ticking, Evan O’Carroll splitting the posts with barely 15 seconds on the clock. Two Gary Walsh frees brought Laois’ tally to three points with just four minutes gone.
Keith Beirne got Leitrim off the mark with a sixth minute pointed free but that did little to stem Laois.
The visitors to Pairc Seán Mac Diarmada were in cruise mode and in complete control when Trevor Collins rounded off a great move with a goal in the ninth minute.
Amazingly, despite all their dominance, Laois were to be out-scored by three points to one over the next 13 minutes. Leitrim’s scores came from the boot of full forward Keith Beirne with Eoin Lowry recording Laois’ solitary point.
The problem was that the Laois forwards look over anxious to score, trying impossible shots resulting in six wides being kicked in this same period.
However, they did settle down somewhat approaching half time with Gary Walsh converting a free and Paul Kingston finding the target from long range.
Beirne landed Leitrim’s fifth point but he really should have added a goal to his tally.
Gareth Dillon had been penalised for hauling down Ryan O’Rourke inside the big square but Beirne’s effort from the penalty spot was poorly struck and easily saved by Brody.
Despite the number of wides Laois would have been happy with their 1-7 to 0-5 lead at the break and quickly built on it after the restart.
Gary Walsh banged over to early points, one from a free. The full forward, who is enjoying one of his most productive periods in a Laois jersey, was then fouled resulting in a penalty for Laois.
Eoin Lowry took on the responsibility and calmly stroked the ball into the bottom corner.
Walsh and O’Carroll added points before Brendan Gallagher got Leitrim’s first point of the half in the 48th minute.
But there was still no hint of how this game would pan out. Another swift build up was rounded off by Walsh shooting past Leitrim goalkeeper Diarmuid McKiernan for Laois’ third goal in the 49th.
Yet another Walsh free gave Laois a 3-12 to 0-6 lead with 53 minutes on the clock.
Maybe the Laois players hit the comfort zone but they could have paid a very severe penalty.
When Leitrim got that first goal, Walsh (free) pulled back a point but goal number two was just minutes away. For the third time in the game referee Barry Judge from Sligo pointed t the penalty spot after Shane Nerney was judged to have pulled O’Rourke.
Rooney converted from the spot for his second goal.
A Keith Beirne point closed the gap to nine points with seven minutes of normal time left to play.
Ross Munnelly, who had been introduced midway through the second half, settle Laois with a point, but there was soon to be more for the Leitrim crowd to cheer about.
Another good move saw the Laois defence hesitated in clearing the lines, the ball fell to Ryan O’Rourke and the green f;lag was raised again.
Beirne kicked his seventh point of the game and just six points separated sides with three minutes of normal time remaining.
Even with four minutes of time added on indicated, there would not be time for Leitrim to close the gap any further.
Laois struck for two more points form O’Carroll and Munnelly while the final say went to Leitrim duo Rooney and Beirne.
A win is a win. But Laois will need to be more clinical in the rest of their games.
Laois have a golden opportunity this Saturday evening when they host Waterford in O’Moore Park. The Deise drew their first game against Wicklow and were beaten by Antrim at the weekend.
This is the chance to rectify those little things that did not go as planned against Leitrim.
LAOIS: Graham Brody; David Holland, Shane Nerney, Ruaidhrí C Fennell; Trevor Collins (1-0), Colm Begley, Graham Brody; John O’Loughlin, Danny O’Reilly; Alan Farrell, Paul Kingston (0-2), Brian Glynn; Eoin Lowry (1-1, 1-0 pen), Gary Walsh (1-8, 0-6f), Evan O’Carroll (0-3).
Subs: Niall Donoher for Glynn (h/t), Ross Munnelly (0-2) for Lowry (47m), Aaron Dowling for Farrell (50m), Kieran Lillis for O’Reilly (55m), Robbie Donoher for Holland (55m), Jamie Farrell for Begley (60m, inj)
LEITRIM: Diarmuid McKiernan; James Mitchell, Michael McWeeney, Matthew Murphy; Keith Keegan, Donal Wrynn, Oisin Madden; Dean McGovern, Colm Moreton; Conor Gaffney, Ryan O’Rourke (1-0), Brendan Gallagher (0-1); Aidan Flynn, Keith Beirne (0-8, 0-4f), James Rooney.
Subs: Darragh Rooney (2-1, 1-0 pen) for Moreton (h/t), Eoin Ward for Flynn (45m), Jack Heslin for Gallagher (50m), Damien Moran for Wrynn (57m), Noel Plunkett for Murphy (57m)
Referee: Barry Judge (Sligo)