By Brendan O'Brien, O'Moore Park
Laois 3-16 Wicklow 0-18
Laois secured the dubious honour of a Leinster football quarter-final tie with Dublin in Kilkenny’s Nowlan Park early next month, but only with a deeply unimpressive and barely deserved win over Division Four opponents on home soil.
Winning manager Mick Lillis has three weeks of considerable concern ahead of him on this evidence. Their porous defence was the major cause of their relegation to Division Three of the Allianz League and it resurfaced as an Achilles heel again here.
It wasn’t the only worry either, though they started and ended brightly.
Laois had at least five good-to-fair goal chances in the first-half against a side whose naiveté in defence matched that of their own and Carlow’s from the opening game, but the home team converted only one of them.
Gary Walsh managed that, the full-forward collecting the ball on the end line, rounding his man and shooting low past Paul McLoughlin in the Wicklow goal. Only eight minutes had been played by then, but it franked a decent start for Laois.
They looked slick in attack in those early stages, John O’Loughlin moving smoothly up from midfield to buttress a forward line replete with the dangers of Evan O’Carroll, Donie Kington, Walsh and the veteran Ross Munnelly who was back after a long-standing injury.
It didn’t last.
Laois stuttered from there to the break, just doing enough to keep Wicklow at a safe-ish distance though they had to foul their men repeatedly to do so. Wicklow missing four of their seven free attempts on goal helped them in that sense.
The favourites led by 1-10 0 0-8 at the break, but Wicklow enjoyed the better of large tracts of the second-half with bursts of four and three points in a row sandwiched by 1-2 from Laois with substitute Ruairi O’Connor snaffling the goal.
They needed it.
Laois were abysmal at times, their penchant for fouling Wicklow attackers a constant throughout, and you would have to fear for them against Dublin if this is the trouble they can find themselves in the last quarter against an average Division Four side.
They did at least finish with purpose, hitting 1-4 to 0-2 in the last 10 minutes of action, all of which emanated from Kingston.
Strong finish, weak overall performance. It may not be pretty in the Marble City next month.
Scorers for Laois: D Kingston (1-6, 2 frees); G Walsh (1-1); E O’Carroll (0-4, 3 frees); R O’Connor (1-0); R Munnelly (0-2, 1 free); G Dillon, J O’Loughlin, P Cahillane (all 0-1).
Scorers for Wicklow: R Finn (0-6, 4 frees): D Healy (0-2); P Cunningham (0-2 frees): J McGrath (0-2, 1 free); P McLoughlin, A Murphy, D Hayden, P Byrne, J Crowe and A McLoughlin (all 0-1).
Laois: G Brody; P Cotter, M Timmons, S Attride; D O’Connor, D Strong, G Dillon; J O’Loughlin, B Quigley; N Donoher, P Cahillane, E O’Carroll; R Munnelly, G Walsh, D Kingston.
Subs: M Campion for Donoher and R O’Connor for Munnelly (both HT); K Meaney for Campion (48); A Farrell for Dillon (56); E Keane for Walsh (63); J Farrell for O’Carroll (68).
Wicklow: R Lambert; C Hyland, P McLoughlin, A Murphy; C Murphy, S Kelly, D Healy; R Finn, N Gaffney; D Hayden, J McGrath, M Kenny; P Byrne, P Cunningham, M Lennon.
Subs: A McLoughlin for Gaffney (HT); D Woods for Kenny (42); P O’Connor for McGrath (44); J Crowe for Murphy (51); S Thompson for Byrne (58); G Allen for Lennon (68).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).