Laois were far from great in O’Moore Park yesterday but they didn’t have to be any better than that against an Offaly side that, not for the first time, took one hesitant sniff at the qualifiers and turned away in disgust.
Their indifference in Portlaoise was baffling. The sight of their neighbours has never failed to raise Offaly’s blood in the past but not even the chance to show Mick O’Dwyer the road out of the midlands after years of torture at his hands could fire them.
Four points in 70-odd minutes says it all, but there are many more cringing stats to redden the cheeks: it took Offaly 25 minutes to score a point in a second half when they played with a substantial breeze.
Even that came from a free, which meant Kevin Kilmurray’s side trooped back to the changing rooms for the last time this season without registering a single point from play since their last visit 35 minutes before.
There are a few caveats, chiefly the absence of key midfielder Alan McNamee through injury. The Rhode man’s deliveries to brothers Niall and Thomas Deehan backboned Offaly’s climb back towards respectability this season and no-one could pick up the baton in his stead.
Niall McNamee and Deehan were starved of the ball by a combination of their own team’s failings and the defensive doggedness of Aidan Fennelly and Joe Higgins. The result was an attack unit as blunt as a spoon.
Defence ruled on both sides, as evidenced by the fact neither full-forward line registered a single score. That was one of the few positives Kilmurray could take. The negatives could fill an entire filing cabinet.
Laois were far from impressive themselves and most worrying for O’Dwyer will be his side’s horrendous display in front of the Offaly posts. They ended with 14 wides but at one stage it seemed as if they might double that.
They had five recorded in as many minutes after the throw-in, the most agonising either Brendan Quigley’s faux pas when through on Padraig Kelly’s goal or Brian McCormack’s fisted effort that spun wide with the Offaly keeper in no-man’s land.
They led 0-5 to 0-3 at the break but, with a little more composure could have tagged on another 3-9. Fergal Byron typified this, ballooning a penalty over the bar as the first half drew its final breath.
Ultimately, none of it harmed their chances here but it is difficult to see a similar display delivering victory against Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
They might have managed three wins on the spin since their demise at Dublin’s hands, but their momentum seems to be diminishing rather than gathering pace in the three games against Tyrone, Meath and Offaly.
Their biggest problem is a compulsion to hold the ball and overindulge in the short stuff, which time and again allowed Offaly to flood behind the ball and thwart their advances.
Padraig Clancy’s goal after 61 minutes was one of the few times Laois swept forward with some abandon. That policy reaped similar belated benefits against Meath in the last round, when they managed two goals from Ross Munnelly.
Switching style sealed the victory both days but in fairness, their ability to maintain possession won them the game yesterday and against Tyrone.
Tactics only work with players good enough to operate under them and Laois could again point to a number of superb individual performances in this, their sixth championship game of the summer.
Fennelly and Higgins were parsimony personified in shackling the McNamee-Deehan twin threat, and Darren Rooney is starting to impress as much on the edge of the small square as he did in his previous guise as a roving wing back.
The biggest plus this time, though, was young Brendan Quigley, who gave the sort of mature performance in midfield that suggested he could one day be a great. He was that good.
Four times he plucked a kick-out from the sky and, on one of those occasions galloped off on a run to point.
They will need to raise more white flags when they return to Croke Park for the first time since their traumatic defeat to Dublin in two weeks’ time, but O’Dwyer would surely settle for another tally of 1-9 if it delivered another eight-point win.
: F Byron (0-1p); A Fennelly, D Rooney, J Higgins; P McDonald, T Kelly, P McMahon; B Quigley (0-2), N Garvan; B McCormack, C Conway (0-3, 2f), R Munnelly (0-3, 1f); B Sheehan, I Fitzgerald, B McDonald. Subs: P Clancy (1-0) for Garvan 19, C Parkinson for Fitzgerald 65, P Lawlor for McCormack 65.
: P Kelly; C Daly, G Rafferty, N Grennan; P McConway, S Sullivan, K Slattery; N Coughlan, M Daly; C Quinn (0-1), C McManus (0-3, 2f), P Kellaghan; T Deehan, J Coughlan, N McNamee. Subs: J Reynolds for Quinn 52, T Phelan for Coughlan 65, S Ryan for Deehan 68.
: J McQuillan (Cavan).