Laois stroll to victory over Leitrim

The more games the better says manager Justin McNulty

Justin McNulty during his first spell in charge of Laois
Justin McNulty during his first spell in charge of Laois Laois manager Justin McNulty

Allianz Football League Division Four final

Laois 3-14 Leitrim 0-9

THE more games the better and the quicker they come the better.

That was Justin McNulty’s glowing assessment of the GAA’s new concertinaed season after managing Laois to the Division 4 league title.

Various managers have been critical of the tightly packed schedule with losing Leitrim boss Andy Moran bemoaning the short turnaround to next Sunday’s Connacht SFC opener against Sligo.

Westmeath’s Des Dolan, victorious in the Division 3 final, has also been critical of the fact that they’ll probably have to play five weekends in a row across March and April.

But former Armagh defender McNulty, who watched his Laois side eventually come good after a laboured first 50 minutes or so, said the new jam-packed schedule is a big step forward.

“It’s fantastic, this is where you want to be, playing games week in, week out,” said McNulty whose side will play Offaly in the Leinster SFC on Saturday week.

“That’s the joyous part of it. I love this new setup, no five-week windows where you have to try and balance your recovery, balance your motivation. I think it’s wonderful that there are games coming week in, week out almost.”

Ben Dempsey netted for Laois in the first-half and they led by 1-7 to 0-6 at half-time.

But it wasn’t until Eoin Lowry’s 48th minute goal that they pulled away and Paul Kingston wrapped it up with Laois’ third goal.

Captain Evan O’Carroll was the real star and tormented the Leitrim full-back line, particularly under the high ball.

He scored six points, had two more scoring attempts and played the final pass for the first two goals.

It was a big bounceback from Laois on two fronts considering they conceded eight goals on their previous visit to Croke Park, against Down in last year’s Tailteann Cup, and also because they lost to Leitrim in Round 6.

“That was a bit of a hammer blow two weeks ago with the performance against Leitrim which we knew wasn’t good enough,” said McNulty.

“Leitrim probably should have scored five or six goals in that game, they’d gilt edged opportunities against us. We knew we had to batten down the hatches in defence.”

But McNulty was disappointed that Laois weren’t more ruthless with those dozen wides and two more great goal chances for O’Carroll which weren’t taken.

“Our efficiency in front of goal wasn’t where it needed to be,” he said. “We need to improve it for two weeks’ time against Offaly. We know we can do better.”

Leitrim were within touching distance for 50 minutes but, worryingly, had to battle so hard for each of their scores.

Ryan and O’Riordan O’Rourke and goalkeeper Nevin O’Donnell boomed over some beautiful points but each was an epic. Just like Mark Plunkett’s spinning kick from the right wing that split the posts.

Laois, in contrast, carved out opportunities with relative ease. They just didn’t convert enough.

O’Carroll was monstrous at full-forward and Offaly can surely expect plenty of high ball to be rained down on him in Portlaoise on Saturday week.

Leitrim have little time for recovery as they are scheduled to face Sligo in a Connacht quarter-final on Sunday.

Boss Andy Moran said Donal Casey and Conor Reynolds picked up fresh injuries.

“The way the league is running straight into the Championship, we are really going to struggle now,” said Moran.

“We’ve two guys that could potentially play U20s on Wednesday evening so they could potentially be gone for us as well.”

Saturday’s Croke Park outing was just Leitrim’s sixth ever. They are still waiting on their first win. Moran is hoping they have more opportunities this year.

“What we really want is not to wait another five, 10, 15, 20 years to be here again,” said Moran. “We’ll hopefully have a good run in the Championship, if we get to the Tailteann Cup then hopefully we’ll get to a quarter-final, semi-final and hopefully be back in Croke Park again before the end of the year.”


Laois: K Roche; B Dempsey (1-0), J Kelly, E Buggie; B Byrne, M Timmons, S Lacey; K Lillis (0-1, 1m), D Larkin; K Swayne, E Lowry (1-2), S Fitzpatrick; M Barry (0-2), E O’Carroll (0-6, 2f), P Kingston (1-2); Subs: S Fingleton for Byrne 53, C Heffernan for Lillis 62, R Murphy (0-1) for Kingston 63, N Dunne for Fitzpatrick 64, M Dempsey for Swayne 65.

Leitrim: N O’Donnell (0-3, 1f, 1 45); C Reynolds, M Diffley, D Casey; J Gilheany; D Wrynn, A Flynn, J Foley; P Dolan, B McNulty (0-1); M Plunkett (0-1), D Rooney, T Prior; Ryan O’Rourke (0-2), Riordan O’Rourke (0-2); Subs: E Sweeney for Reynolds 20, P Keaney for Prior 20, S Quinn for Riordan O’Rourke 52, A Reynolds for Casey 61, J Rooney for Flynn 67.

Ref: T Murphy (Galway).