All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Round 3 Qualifier
By Denis J. Croke
FOR the second year running Laois footballers have advanced to the last 12 of the All-Ireland championship after seeing of the challenge of Offaly in O’Moore Park on Saturday evening.
It may not have been a vintage performance but it was a cracking game of football, probably the best display from a Laois team since John Sugrue took up the reins 18 months ago, although the Kerryman was not getting carried away with this latest win.
“It’s hard to say that (best display). It all depends very much in the context of what we do next weekend,” said Sugrue.
Following the game the spotlight was firmly focussed on the Kingston brothers, Donie and Paul who between them accounted for half of Laois’s tally of 20 points.
It must have been particularly pleasing for the younger of the pair, Paul who has had a difficult year. He failed to nail down a place during the league and has not particularly impressed in his championship performances.
For this game he was switched to centre forward and pulled the strings with a hugely impressive performance. He not only scored four points but was the pivotal link in a lot of other scores.
The opening half was a bit of cat and mouse as both sides looked to dominate but could not be separated on the scoreboard. Playing into the stiff breeze Laois starved Offaly of possession and thus making use of the elements.
Paul Kingston opened the scoring after 20 seconds only for a Niall McNamee brace, one a free, to edge the visitors ahead. But Laois stormed into a three points lead thanks to Munnelly, Kieran Lillis and Donie Kingston (2) by the midpoint of the half.
Offaly then enjoyed a period of dominance landing three on the trot, Paddy Dunican (free), Ruairí McNamee and Bernard Allen on target to level affairs 22 minutes in as the Laois full back line was finding it difficult to contain their opponents.
From there to the break it was tit for tat on the scoreboard and at the break the sides were locked on 10 points apiece.
Just as he had done in the first half Paul Kingston was first to find the target stroking over from 35 metres. Brother Donie did likewise from a placed ball which Offaly goalkeeper Paddy Dunican cancelled out.
But Laois had a look about them that they meant business and were not going to lose out to their neighbours. They were totally dominant, controlling the game, playing it at their pace which had been stepped up quite a bit.
Four points on the trot from Donie Kingston (free), Colm Murphy, Eoin Lowry and Donie again opened up a five-point gap entering the final quarter.
Offaly’s Johnny Moloney and Paul Kingston swapped points and not that Laois needed inspiration but their centre back Robbie Pigott powered forward and land a monster of a point just short of the hour mark.
With ten minutes remaining a point from surprise omission at the start of the game, Evan O’Carroll had six points between the sides but Laois would not score again until the 74th minute through the same player, kicking four bad wides in the same period.
With Offaly scoring two points through Allen and Ruairí McNamee in this same period Laois had put themselves under unnecessary pressure and will not get away with such complacency against Cork next weekend.
LAOIS: Graham Brody; Stephen Attride, Denis Booth, Gareth Dillon; Trevor Collins, Robert Pigott (0-1), Patrick O’Sullivan; John O’Loughlin, Kieran Lillis (0-2); Daniel O’Reilly, Paul Kingston (0-4), Marty Scully; Donie Kingston (0-6, 0-3fs), Colm Murphy (0-2), Ross Munnelly (0-2, 0-1f).
Subs: Eoin Lowry (0-1) for Munnelly (47m), Eoin Buggie for O’Sullivan (51m), Evan O’Carroll (0-2) for Murphy (53m), Damien O’Connor for O’Reilly (63m), Sean Byrne for Lillis (63m), David Seale for Attride (67m)
OFFALY: Paddy Dunican (0-3fs); Declan Hogan, Eoin Rigney, David Dempsey; Cian Donohoe, Johnny Moloney (0-1), Niall Darby; Eoin Carroll, Peter Cunningham; Shane Horan, Anton Sullivan (0-1), Cathal Mangan; Bernard Allen (0-4), Niall McNamee (0-3, 0-1f), Ruairi McNamee (0-4).
Subs: Mark Abbott for Carroll (48m), Paul McConway for Cunningham (54m), Joseph O’Connor for Donohue (59m), Peter Cunningham for Sullivan (67m), Shane Tierney for R McNamee (71m)
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)