Laois finally get a lift

YESTERDAY morning on radio, Mick O'Dwyer jokingly quipped that he was beginning to wonder if Laois would ever win another game.

Laois 1-15 Meath 1-12

By four o'clock in the afternoon he was probably wondering how this team have ever managed to lose one.

The answer lies in the schizophrenic side to the Leinster champions that they just can't seem to shake.

That they won with three points to spare doesn't even begin to tell the tale of this extraordinary game, but once it's all digested the message is still the same: this team just does not know how to give up.

Everything O'Dwyer has asked of them they have done, and more.

Yesterday's championship-like tussle saw the 'Portlaoise Three' of Colm Byrne, Colm Parkinson and Martin Delaney on the bench after their late night indiscretions last month. Ross Munnelly, Brian McDonald and Ian Fitzgerald all returned as Laois' injury nightmare finally shows signs of abating. All three played their parts but Munnelly in particular was the star, managing seven points, three of them from play.

Just as encouraging was the display of a midfield shorn of the workaholic Padraig Clancy through injury. In his absence Kevin Fitzpatrick moved up from the half-backs and contributed a fine 1-1 while Garvan gave perhaps his finest ever performance in the blue jersey.

The only sour note was Fitzpatrick's sending off for a second yellow offence towards the end.

Just like his unfortunate dismissal in last year's Leinster final, this one was something of a head scratcher and it summed up the performance of referee Pat Fox who missed a multitude of blatant fouls.

Most blatant of all was his failure to punish two Meath defenders for successive indiscretions inside their own area on Colm Kelly and Ian Fitzgerald 52 minutes in. That error was balanced out eight minutes later when Fitzgerald's blatant pick up was ignored in the move that led to Fitzpatrick's goal, a strike which gave Laois the lead for the first time since the ninth minute.

The home side started off in some style, landing two points in the opening five minutes before their vigour disappeared. From nothing, Meath clicked into gear, amassing 1-6 in a devastating 15-minute spell.

Joe Sheridan continued to prove why he's is being touted as the next big thing in Meath, although his goal after 15 minutes owed everything to Laois' laziness at the back. Brian Farrell in the other corner-forward slot also made a mark, but the biggest plus for Meath was the return of Trevor Giles from injury as an 18th minute sub while Ollie Murphy's cameo also gives cause for optimism.

Laois looked the part of Leinster champions for the last 50 minutes. The recovery all stemmed from Munnelly's first score from a free 23 minutes in. Suddenly the game burst into life. Three more points followed within four minutes but by the break Laois were still 1-8 to 0-7 in arrears. The tone, however, had been set for the second act.

Meath raged against the storm with a brace of points each from Evan Kelly and Sheridan keeping their heads above water for the next 15 minutes, but Laois were chipping away at the foundations of their lead.

By the 49th minute there was only two points in it with David Gallagher having made two world-class saves.

Then came Fitzpatrick's three-pointer to put Laois into a 1-14 to 1-12 lead before young Munnelly fittingly wrapped up the scoring with his last and best point six minutes from time.

Scorers: Laois: R Munnelly 0-7 (4 frees), K Fitzpatrick 1-1, M Lawlor 0-3, T Kelly 0-1, C Conway 0-1, B McDonald 0-1, C Kelly 0-1. Meath: J Sheridan 1-3 (1 free), R Magee 0-2, B Farrell 0-2, E Kelly 0-2, D Byrne 0-1, C McCarthy 0-1, T Giles 0-1.

LAOIS: M Nolan; P McDonald, D Mulhall, T McDonald; J Higgins, T Kelly, D Brennan; K Fitzpatrick, N Garvan; R Munnelly, I Fitzgerald, M Lawlor; B McDonald, C Kelly, C Conway (capt). Subs: C Byrne for D Brennan 47, P Conway for T McDonald 49.

MEATH: D Gallagher; P Reynolds, T O'Connor, M O'Reilly; S MacGabhainn, D Fay, S Kenny; N Crawford, C McCarthy; R Magee, D Curtis, D Byrne; B Farrell, E Kelly, J Sheridan.

Subs: T Giles for D Curtis 18, N McKeigue for S MacGabhainn 58, D Regan for B Farrell 62.

Referee: P Fox (Westmeath).

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