Rather, Laois emerged at the end of a benign affair with their eyes firmly fixed on a far bigger prize, the scalp of Dublin, and intent on leaving blood on the Championship floor at a later date.
Manager Tomás Ó Flatharta stopped well short of issuing any ‘bring on the Dubs war cry’ ahead of their glamour Leinster quarter-final date. But he did tell his players pointedly in the dressing-room afterwards they should look forward to a long summer.
A storming second-half performance, inspired by veteran Leinster medallist Ross Munnelly, who shot 0-9, secured the 2003 winners’ passage to a June 8 quarter-final showdown with the holders.
Laois trailed by two points with half an hour to go against a Wicklow side keen to take another big scalp at fortress Aughrim. But when Ó Flatharta’s side moved up a gear after a tense opening 40 minutes, they cruised to a comfortable and anticipated victory.
They shot six points without reply during a seven minute passage of second-half play that put them well in the clear. Whether they have enough to overcome holders and All-Ireland champions Dublin is debatable.
They will at least have Colm Begley to include in their line up after his axing for yesterday’s tie. The former Aussie Rules player was dropped for lining out for club side Parnells in the Dublin club championship last Wednesday.
Former Westmeath and Galway chief Ó Flatharta said he felt Begley was in an ‘awkward situation’ because he’s employed by Parnells as a coach. But the manager was also compelled to act and left Begley to stew on the bench.
The bold move threatened to haunt Ó Flatharta as Wicklow kept pace for the first 40 minutes or so and even moved into the lead. But Laois were able to battle back and it would be a surprise if experienced Begley isn’t recalled now for the clash with Dublin.
Ó Flatharta claimed there’s ‘more in the tank’ for that game and admitted: “That’s what I’ve just told them in there, that there’s an awful lot of football to be played by these lads this summer.
“I suppose looking at Dublin, sure what can I say about them? They’re the All-Ireland champions, the league champions and every team they come up against they seemed to be able to do very well against them.
“We’re up against them in two weeks’ time and our job is to prepare as best we can so that we can perform to the best of our ability but we will do that.”
On the Begley axing, Ó Flatharta explained how he felt for some sympathy for the wing-back.
Ó Flatharta said: “Myself and Colm had a discussion during the week about it. He understood where we were coming from. And I fully understood the awkward situation he was in.
“But, look, it’s gone now. He’s still a very vital part of our panel and he’s going to be fully involved from now on.”
Asked if the issue has soured the Championship experience so far, Ó Flatharta shook his head.
He said: “Absolutely not. We’re heading for Croke Park in two or three weeks’ time and it’s all systems go. What has happened, has happened, it’s the end of that now and we just move on.”
Wicklow took advantage of a slow Laois start to keep pace with them for two thirds of the game and even move ahead. But Laois operated two divisions higher than Wicklow in the national league and that bigger game experience came to bear in the second-half.
They shot an impressive 13 points in the last half hour or so. Their defence was solid though full-back Paul Begley struggled on big Seanie Furlong in the first half. Furlong contributed directly to 1-2, the ball coming off him for Paul Cunningham’s 33rd minute goal.
That strike left the sides level at the break 1-5 to 0-8. And when Furlong and Rory Finn split the posts after the restart, Wicklow fans were daring to dream. But there was a sense of inevitability about proceedings and when Laois finally got going they streaked clear.
John O’Loughlin gave a powerhouse performance in the middle and Dublin will have to keep tabs on him the next day. Donie Kingston did the bulk of his scoring from frees but clipped over one cracking point after a lengthy solo run.
On current form, Munnelly is the man Dublin will fear most. He didn’t just top score for Laois but he hit points when they were needed, inspirational scores.
Like the back-to-back efforts, from either wing, during that burst of six points that effectively settled the game.
Scorers for Laois: R Munnelly (0-9, 5fs), D Kingston (0-6, 4fs), J O’Loughlin (0-3), D Strong (0-2, 1 45), K Meaney (0-1).
Scorers for Wicklow: S Furlong (0-4fs), P Cunningham (1-0), R Finn (0-3), L Glynn (0-3, 2fs), C McGraynor (0-1).
LAOIS: G Brody; P McMahon, P Begley, P O’Leary; D Strong, S Attride, R Kehoe; K Meaney, J O’Loughlin; J Finn, C Meredith, B Sheehan; D Kingston, R Munnelly, D Conway. Subs for Laois: E Costello for Finn (ht), E O’Carroll for Conway (57), P Kingston for D Kingston (71).
WICKLOW: R Lambert; P McLoughlin, A Byrne, A Murphy; D Healy, P McWalter, K Murphy; J Stafford, A McLoughlin; R Finn, M Kenny, D Hayden; L Glynn, S Furlong, P Cunningham. Subs for Wicklow: C McGraynor for Kenny (44), P Dalton for Cunningham (54), N Gaffney for Hayden (67).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).
Wicklow threatened an upset when they led by two with 43 minutes gone. But six Laois scores without reply in a seven-minute spell turned the game on its head. It broke Wicklow’s resolve and from there Laois cantered to a comfortable win.
Manager Tomas Ó Flatharta faces a dilemma over Colm Begley. Should he return him to the Laois team to face Dublin after axing him for yesterday’s tie? The answer is simple enough, yes. Begley took his punishment like a man and was a visible presence before, during and after yesterday’s game.
Ross Munnelly scored a great point in the 63rd minute after a flowing move. He ended up running behind the goals to get back onto the pitch but was smashed in the face by the umpire waving his white flag. Munnelly didn’t take it too well, tossing the flag to the ground before resuming his position.
Munnelly has been in good form this season and capitalised on that momentum with nine points yesterday. Wicklow tried a couple of different defenders on him but to no avail. His back-to-back points in the 47th and 48th minutes inspired Laois at a vital stage.
There wasn’t a single black card handed out in Aughrim. And there were only two yellow cards, both for Laois. It was a timid enough encounter by the general norms of Championship fare.
It wasn’t an overly tactical game, with both sides lining out in traditional fashion. The big calls came in the personal match ups. Tomas Ó Flatharta could have taken Paul Begley off Seanie Furlong who was doing such damage at full-forward for Wicklow. But he banked on an improved midfield showing cutting out the supply line in the second-half and it paid off.
Rory Hickey had an anonymous enough afternoon, which suited him just fine. Both teams were committed to a free-flowing game and he kept his cards under wraps throughout.
Laois advance to play holders Dublin in the Leinster SFC quarter-finals at Croke Park on June 8. Wicklow will play a Round 1A qualifier on Saturday, June 21.