The Armagh man and his team have drawn much criticism this year, in particular from inside the county after the defeat by Longford in the first round of the Leinster SFC. But there could be few complaints after yesterday’s win.
They dominated in almost every sector, scoring two fantastic goals and pulling Monaghan apart all over the field.
McNulty was certain he had seen the best football his side had played in his two years in the job. “The work ethic from the team was phenomenal, it took the light out of my eyes in terms of how hard the team worked for each other to effect the game plan, it was heart-warming to see that performance.”
Laois certainly looked like a different side to the one which slumped to defeat against Longford and just about beat Carlow, as they played some wonderful football after a mixed opening 20 minutes. McNulty had gambled on bringing Pádraig Clancy out to midfield, having played him as a target man at full-forward all year, and it didn’t really work.
Laois started well, points from Ross Munnelly and Conor Boyle putting them ahead after just three minutes, but they laboured for a spell after that as Monaghan took control. The Farney men were on top in midfield and they rattled off five points before Laois moved Clancy back to full-forward and bring Colm Begley to midfield. They took off after that.
“In any performance you’re never going to dominate for the whole match” admitted the Armagh man after the game. “There were areas where Monaghan came at us, and we made a few changes, some of them worked, some of them didn’t. On the whole, though, I think we wanted it more.”
Once Clancy went to full-forward Laois became more direct, and it took them just four minutes to wipe out Monaghan’s three point lead, with Ross Munnelly (two) and Colm Kelly on target. The game’s crucial score arrived then, when Kevin Meaney came charging out from the full-back line and played a superb long pass to Colm Kelly, who stole in behind Drew Wylie and thumped a shot past Mark Keogh.
Laois were on their way after that, with Brendan Quigley adding a stunning second goal before half-time. The hosts were a changed side from the one which had performed so meekly at times in this year’s championship, and McNulty revealed why after the game.
They were boosted before the throw-in by the return of John Mulligan, the team selector from Portlaoise who was taken seriously ill earlier this year.
Brendan Quigley gave one of his best performances in a Laois jersey with a storming game at midfield, and his goal before half time was the score of the game. He jinked away from Owen Lennon before firing a 20 yards shot high into the net. That sent Laois in 2-7 to 0-8 ahead at half-time.
Two points at the start of the second half gave Monaghan some hope, but that was as good as it got.
Eamonn McEneaney's side were toothless in attack after that, hitting seven wides and landing three more shots into the grateful arms of Eoin Culliton. The season is over now for Monaghan, but for Laois, this victory could be the start of something.
Scorers – Laois: C Kelly 1-2, B Quigley 1-1, R Munnelly 0-3 (f), D O’Connor 0-2, P Clancy, G Walsh, C Boyle, MJ Tierney (45) 0-1 each
Monaghan: C McManus 0-5 (3f), P Finlay 0-3 (2f), T Freeman, D Clerkin, O Lennon, D Mone 0-1 each.