Tailteann Cup preliminary quarter-final: Fermanagh 1-9 Laois 1-11
A SEASON that peaked with promotion to Division Two and promised much more for Fermanagh petered out as Laois pulled away in injury-time to win at Brewster Park.
A lacklustre first half left the Ernemen – who had Ryan Jones red-carded for an off-the-ball offence just before the break – too much to do after they’d shown character to gather themselves for a fightback in the second period.
The team that huffed and puffed at Brewster Park before the break was a pale shadow of the side that had shown such sparkle throughout their successful Division Three campaign.
“We had a real good League and we felt we could take it into the Championship and have a bounce but it just didn’t materialise,” said Fermanagh manager Kieran Donnelly.
“We missed chances at the start and maybe our confidence slipped due to those misses and the sending-off was a major turning point especially in that heat. I thought our players did really well after half-time, you couldn’t fault them, they got four points on-the-bounce and showed real courage but it just wasn’t enough.
“Laois have scoring forwards and they have size and they did maximise their chances. We felt a couple of decisions went against us in the second half but all-in-all we missed too many clear-cut chances at critical stages.”
After a bright start, Fermanagh quickly began to look leggy and short on ideas and a brilliant individual score from Che Cullen was their highlight of a drab first half.
Four minutes had gone when Cullen charged from full-back to the Laois 45. His pace took him away from the chasing posse, his power took him through a couple of tackles and he skilfully stroked the ball over the bar.
But the O’Mooremen were soon back on terms and they passed up two goal chances – the first blocked by Ryan Lyons, the second blazed over the bar by Colm Murphy – as they took control.
Fermanagh had their chances too – Shane McGullion hammered a shot off the Laois bar – but they were second best and a difficult job got a lot harder when Jones was sent off after he appeared to aim a kick at Damon Larkin (who was quickly back on his feet after the card was shown) a minute before the break.
Pressing Sean McNally’s kickouts, Laois showed the appetite to dog it out. Meanwhile, Fermanagh were looking like a club team and manager Donnelly had made two substitutions by the interval when his team trailed 0-6 to 0-4.
Fermanagh began the second half with much more purpose. Luke Flanagan broke forward and left one it with a good finish from the left and then Lyons found Conor McGee who chipped over the equaliser.
Warriorlike Che Cullen tore into 50-50s with Larkin, James Finn and O’Carroll as the action warmed up. He earned his free, which was moved up for dissent, and Lyons gave Fermanagh the lead 0-7 to 0-6
Horan added another point but Mark Timmons undid all Fermanagh’s good work in a flash when he broke forward and beat Sean McNally with a low finish that left it 1-6 to 0-8 after 50 minutes.
Evan O’Carroll – who had an intense duel with Che Cullen - scored his third point to leave two in it but Fermanagh hit back again when Ultan Kelm raided in from the left wing.
His shot was brilliantly saved by Killian Roche but Sean Quigley leapt to force the rebound into the net and passed the 500-point mark (he began the game on 499 points - 29-412) for his county with the goal.
A Paul Kingston free levelled and the stray duck that landed on the field caused some mirth in the sparsely-populated stand as the tension rose. Johnny Cassidy’s nimble feet took him past the uninterested pitch invader but he dragged a shot wide and Laois got their noses in front again with another Kingston free which was given for a debatable ‘foul’ on Kieran Lillis.
Lyons replied with a classy finish that left it all-square (1-9 apiece) with five minutes to go but Mark Barry’s score edged Laois ahead again. Fermanagh had their chances to level but Kelm, Conor McShea and Garvan Jones all shot wide.
A Barry point left two in it and, with time almost up, the Ernemen pumped the ball forward. Lyons caught it and Trevor Collins fouled him.
Laois had every man on the line when the ball was smashed towards their goal and they held out as two rebounds were drilled in to book their place in the quarter-finals.
“They are a great group and we’re a young group,” said Fermanagh manager Donnelly.
“We did expend a lot of energy (in the League) beating teams like Down and Westmeath. We really have to maximise ourselves to get promotion but we’re not going to use that as an excuse. We went into this competition looking forward to it but it just didn’t happen for us.
“In every game we missed chances when we were dominating and the other teams maximised theirs. It’s as simple as that, we weren’t ruthless enough in front of goals.
“We had a good League and we can’t let that (defeat to Laois) define us. We have to keep our heads up and go back to our clubs, stick together and look to push on next year.”
Fermanagh: S McNally; L Flanagan (0-1), C Cullen (0-1), L Cullen; S McGullion (0-2), J Cassidy, D McCusker; R Jones, B Horan (0-1); A Breen, R Lyons (0-3, 0-1 free), R McCaffrey; U Kelm, T McCaffrey, S Quigley (1-0)
Subs: G Jones for T McCaffrey (25), C McGee (0-1) for Breen (26), C O’Shea for Quigley (56), J Largo-Ellis for McCusker (63)
Laois: K Roche; S Greene, T Collins, R Pigott; P Kirwan, M Timmons (1-1), P O’Sullivan; K Lillis, D Larkin; C Murphy (0-1), P Kingston (0-3, 0-2 frees), J Finn; M Barry (0-3, 0-1 mark, 0-1 free), E O’Carroll (0-3, 0-1 mark), E Lowry
Subs: K Swayne for Murphy (55), S O’Flynn for Kirwan (58), D Kavanagh for Timmons (60), C Doyle for Kirwan (70), N Corbet for Finn (72)
Referee: B Judge (Sligo)