A fifth-place finish in Division 2 will be interpreted by some as comfortably avoiding relegation yet concern was etched all over manager Tomas Ó Flathárta’s face with 15 minutes remaining.
He had just watched Laois’s 10-point lead cut to four by a resurgent Down, who also now had the weight of extra numbers following full-back Denis Booth’s red card.
Throw into the mix the requirement for results elsewhere to also go Laois’s way in order for them to leapfrog out of the bottom two, and the reason for the concern becomes much.
Laois started the afternoon second from bottom, above relegated Louth and a point behind Armagh and Galway. Thankfully for them, word filtered through before full-time of Armagh and Galway losses elsewhere while, in their own game, they battled back bravely to regain control.
Down’s Aidan Carr had cut the gap to four points with a 55th-minute penalty after a dangerous challenge by Booth on Donal O’Hare resulted in Booth’s dismissal and O’Hare’s withdrawal. But, a minute later, Laois goalscorer John O’Loughlin finished off a great move with a dummy solo to slip his man before firing a morale-boosting point. From then on, Laois weren’t for wilting.
O’Loughlin finished with 1-2 but experienced attacker Ross Munnelly was their go to man in attack, with six points including five from play.
The only downside was Booth’s dismissal which compounds a defensive headache. He will now miss their Championship opener with Wicklow while Mark Timmons, another full-back, is out with hamstring trouble.
Still, the Championship felt a long way off yesterday.
Laois led 1-10 to 1-1 at half-time and were so dominant that they also hit 13 wides as they cleaned Down out at midfield. James McCartan’s visitors were kept in the game by a ninth minute Conor Maginn goal. But with talisman forward Benny Coulter black carded and Munnelly putting Laois 10 ahead early in the second half, the game appeared to be up.
The 2010 All-Ireland finalists, already safe on seven points, battled gamely with the wind and were superbly led by O’Hare who shot four points and won the penalty before being taken off. But while Carr dispatched a great spot kick to the left corner, leaving Laois just 1-13 to 2-6 up, there was always at least three points between them.
Scorers for Laois: R Munnelly (0-6, 1f), J O’Loughlin (1-2), D Conway and D Kingston (1f) (0-3) , C Meredith and D Strong (0-1).
Scorers for Down: D O’Hare (0-4, 3fs), C Maginn and A Carr (pen) (1-0 each), J Johnston (0-2, 1f), N Madine, C Garvey, C Laverty and M Poland (1f) (0-1).
LAOIS: G Brody; D Booth, P McMahon, P O’Leary; D Strong, P Begley, C Begley; K Meaney, J O’Loughlin; J Finn, D Kingston, B Sheehan; R Munnelly, C Meredith, D Conway.
Subs: D O’Connor for Sheehan (47), R Kehoe for Meredith (62, black card), E O’Carroll for Finn (70), MJ Tierney for Conway (75).
DOWN: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, O Costello; A Carr, D Rooney, C Garvey; P Turley, A Rogers; C Maginn, M Poland, P Devlin; N Madine, B Coulter, D O’Hare. Subs: K McKernan for Coulter (24, black card), C Laverty for Turley (h/t), R Boyle for Rooney (44), C Toner for Devlin (45), N Donnelly for McArdle (49, black card), J Johnston for O’Hare (54).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).