A wry smile framed Justin McNulty’s face when he was asked to assess a game Laois were expected to lose and yet could so easily have won.
“Close but no cigar,” were the first four words out of his mouth. It was as good a summation as any. What matter was it to Laois that they had pushed the All-Ireland champions to the limit? Add it all up and they were out, relieved of duties for the rest of the summer.
“Listen, it’s hugely disappointing for the team,” he added.
“They have given absolutely everything out there in terms of performance. The intensity was phenomenal. Maybe we deserved a little bit better than what we got out of the game but that’s football. Football is a cruel sport and we just have to keep our heads up and stay going.
“I’m disappointed. I thought we could have done more. There’s nobody in that dressing room who’s in any way happy or content. I definitely think we could have done more. The guys showed that they’ve got true character and probably it’s a good platform for the team to go on and develop from beyond this point.”
Whether the same can be said for Dublin is another point entirely. Add in their less-than-awesome displays against Wexford and Meath and it would seem that the champions are finding it hard to raise a gallop although McNulty still believes they can go all the way.
“Of course they can. They have got serious firepower. That game will have brought them on no end. That was a difficult game for them to handle.
“Everybody was telling them it was a cakewalk and for them to have dealt with that complacency factor and be prepared for the battle, which they obviously were because they did ultimately come out on top, that takes a lot of footballing prowess and character.”
When Pat Gilroy spoke of Laois last week, he talked of a team that reminded him of Dublin circa 2010 but, on Saturday’s evidence, Laois are going to struggle to add an attacking thrust to compliment their newfound defensive solidity.
It was impossible not to wonder what Donie Kingston, one of the county’s standout talents, would have added to the party had he been in Croke Park rather than the USA two days ago. Forwards of such ability and size are in rare supply in the midlands.
“We probably need to probably improve our attacking approach,” McNulty admitted.
“We need to create more chances but that was probably more attributable to Dublin’s defensive system which they have got very well honed and is very much on par with what Donegal do.
“They are good at getting 13 men behind the ball, hunting you down in defence, not giving you breathing space at all in attack and they’re very effective at it and they’re very good at it. That’s what it takes for teams to win.”
That McNulty was sitting under the Hogan Stand in August discussing such things at all was something of a turn-up for the books given they fell at the first hurdle in Leinster, to Longford. The question now is whether he will be given, another year.
“That’s something I’m not willing discuss.
I’ll discuss it with my players first and then if the county board are looking for me to stay on, they’ll dictate that, not me.”
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