By Brendan O’Brien, Pairc Tailteann, Navan
Monaghan have claimed the last of the Super 8 slots in the All-Ireland football championship with an ultimately laboured defeat of a limited Laois side in Navan on Sunday afternoon.
The Ulster side threatened to overrun their opponents in a seriously impressive first period but they lost their way in the second and could have been made sweat had the Division Four champions been better able to take advantage.
Then again, star of the show was Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody who made six superb saves to keep the scoreline within limits. Something of a curiosity of a game, then, with Monaghan joining Galway, Kerry and Kildare in Group 1 as of next week.
Laois, as with all underdogs, probably needed a strong start to instil some belief into their ranks and sow some doubt into Monaghan’s but the day started badly for them and got progressively worse as it wore on.
Monaghan simply did as they pleased for the entirety of the opening half, aided by an atrociously poor and slipshod effort from the Leinster side who were far too slack at the back and much too ponderous in attack.
They were outdone in midfield, too.
A perfect storm, basically, and Monaghan were of a mood to take full advantage of their opponent’s failures with a performance that was slick and penetrative and imaginative and Conor McManus among those breathing fire on another suffocating day.
The score at the interval was 0-14 to 1-4.
It should have been even worse.
Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody continued his candidacy for a claim to be the best shot stopper in the land with three superb saves in that period and Paul Kingston’s brilliantly taken goal at the far end came more or less out of the blue.
That aside, Laois were lucky to make the interval with a full complement after Alan Farrell swung a boot with some force at a loose ball just as Colin Walshe was wrapping his hands around it. The yellow card was lenient under the circumstances.
So were Monaghan, actually.
It’s not that Malachy O’Rourke’s lads took their foot off the gas so much as the fact that they started driving down the wrong roads. Time and again in the third quarter they went fishing for goals when there was an easier catch to hand.
Laois took the hint and began to pick up their game. The beaten Leinster finalists scored three of the first four points after the break and Donie Kingston had a goal attempt batted away by Rory Beggan.
Some things hadn’t changed. Brody added another hat-trick of saves to his collection at the far end and the net result of all that was a last ten minutes that kicked in with Monaghan holding just a five-point lead. Weird.
Laois reduced it to four at one point but they lacked the guile to really threaten Monaghan in the end. Pride restored for them after a decent enough season. Monaghan will have to produce a much more rounded and extended display against Kildare next week.
Scorers for Laois: E O’Carroll (0-4, 1 free); R Munnelly (0-3 frees); D Kingston (0-3, 2 frees); P Kingston (1-0); C Begley (0-1).
Scorers for Monaghan: C McManus (0-5, 2 frees); S Carey (0-3); K O’Connell and R McAnespie (both 0-2); R Beggan (0-2, 1 free and 1 ‘45’); N Kearns, F Kelly, C McCarthy, J McCarron and P McKenna (all 0-1).
Laois: G Brody; D O’Connor, M Timmons, G Dillon; T Collins, C Begley, D Strong; J O’Loughlin, K Lillis; A Farrell, P Kingston, B Glynn; R Munnelly, D Kingston, E O’Carroll.
Subs: B Carroll for Farrell (HT); F Crowley for O’Loughlin (42); N Donoher for Glynn (46); E Lowry for P Kingston (50); S Nerney for Strong (61); G Walsh for Munnelly (68).
Monaghan: R Beggan; K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; V Corey, K O’Connell, C Walshe; N Kearns, D Hughes; S Carey, F Kelly, R McAnespie; C McManus, C McCarthy, J McCarron.
Subs: D Mone for Corey and P McKenna for Kelly (both 48); K Hughes for McCarron (52); C Boyle for Walshe (57); N McAdam for D Hughes (63); D Malone for Carey (70).
Referee: D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).