Laois had seen how Kieran McGeeney’s Ulster edge transformed the Lilywhites, turning them from mediocrity into perennial contenders, and this latest outing in Wexford suggests Laois are chiselled from the same rock.
Ten years ago the county claimed a Leinster title with a squad of players small in stature but big on skill but the current crop are larger men who make more of a virtue out of their willingness to work.
Laois at their best are a physical, annoying side of grinders and their ability to escape the south-east with this win only adds to the similarities with McGeeney’s record by adding further lustre to a burgeoning qualifier reputation.
The county has now won seven such fixtures on the trot on the back of disappointing provincial performances this last two summers. Sound like anyone we know in recent years?
Both runs have been enabled by fixtures against feeble opposition — Carlow and Leitrim last year, Carlow and Clare this time — but they have now taken care of Monaghan, Meath and Wexford too.
Last year’s run only ended with a three-point defeat by then All-Ireland champions Dublin in the last eight and McNulty believes their current graph is displaying evidence of a side progressing in terms of performance.
“Of course. The reality is we had two walkaway victories over Carlow and Clare and we didn’t know where we were at,” said the Armagh man who is in charge for a third year with the midland county.
“The fact Wexford had been through a hard battle with Longford last week meant they were battle-hardened and we weren’t in that situation and we were concerned with that coming into the game. Yes, we are happy that momentum-wise we are on the up.”
McNulty was just as quick to accept that Laois had much to occupy their thoughts prior to next week’s round four qualifier and the substitution of four players down their spine is evidence enough of that. The fact is that were Wexford less frivolous with their abundance of scoring opportunities on Saturday night, Laois would be on annual leave now and McNulty’s future as manager would be up for debate.
Aidan O’Brien’s side spurned 21 chances, recording 16 wides, sending five in short and having two more saved by the excellent Eoin Culliton. Yet too many were bad beyond belief.
That said, a good number more were prompted by insistent Laois defending which made the concession of the two goals, to PJ Banville and Adrian Flynn, midway through the first half all the more surprising.
“We gifted away both goals,” said McNulty. “We had possession on both occasions and that was very difficult for us. I’d concentrate on the composure, belief and the character our guys demonstrated to come back from two sucker-punch goals. They were to be able to dig out of the situation and go in (at half-time) only one point down. You have to say also Wexford were very wasteful on occasions but we created chances we missed as well. The character of our guys was tremendous.”
The question has to be whether progress has been made in the past 12 months and, while they still look a long way short of the country’s top sides, there are signs that Laois may well be an improvement on the 2012 model.
Last year it was a lack of firepower that did for their ambitions but with the return to the panel of Donie Kingston, the rise of David Conway and Ross Munnelly’s ongoing excellence Laois have a bit more to their arsenal.
The side’s scoring average has crept up this past three weekends while McNulty beefed up that part of his brigade still further two days ago by throwing the big minor Evan O’Carroll in from the start at full-forward.
With Colm Begley, Conor Meredith and Billy Sheehan performing Duracell bunny roles and a pair of attacking wing-backs in Darren Strong and Padraig McMahon, Laois will believe they can yet feature come the August Bank Holiday again.
Kildare may be gone but their spirit lives on.
Scorers for Wexford: C Lyng (0-5, two frees); PJ Banville (1-1); A Flynn (1-0); C Carty (0-1); A Doyle (0-1).
Scorers for Laois: R Munnelly (0-8, five frees); C Begley (0-3); D Conway (0-3 frees); E O’Carroll (0-1); C Kelly (0-1).
WEXFORD: A Masterson; R Tierney, G Molloy, M Furlong; B Malone, D Murphy, A Flynn; D Waters, R Quinlivan; C Carty, R Barry, A Doyle; C Lyng, P Byrne, PJ Banville.
LAOIS: E Culliton; P Begley, M Timmons, P O’Leary; D Strong, K Lillis, P McMahon; P Clancy, J O’Loughlin; R Munnelly, B Sheehan, C Begley; C Meredith, E O’Carroll, D Conway.
Subs for Wexford: B Brosnan for Doyle (41); J Holmes for Tierney (57); S Attride for Timmons (57); S Roche for Banville (62); K Gore for Lillis (65); S Culleton for Gore (69).
Subs for Laois: C Boyle for Clancy (44); D Kingston for Conway (51); C Kelly for O’Carroll (63); D Booth for Lillis (65).
Referee: C Branagan (Down).