The Laois footballers saved their Division 2 status thanks to a thrilling 3-12 to 1-11 win over Fermanagh in Brewster Park in Enniskillen today.
The win had looked very unlikely with three minutes of normal time remaining when Laois trailed 1-11 to 0-9 and were down to 14 men following a straight red card to captain Kieran Lillis.
But they pulled it out of the fire to stay in Division 2 and give themselves a timely boost ahead of the Leinster championship in two weeks time.
Man of the Match – Gary Walsh
For the second week running, Walsh put in an impressive performance, winning plenty of ball, kicking his frees well and then striking for those two late goals.
It has been over two years since the Ballylinan man has got an extended run with Laois but he has the attacking quality that Laois need and he was excellent in the second half here, finishing with 2-5.
Brian Byrne and Kieran Lillis also put in very honest performances for Laois and got through a lot of work too while Evan O’Carroll grew into the game as it went on.
Just after the restart after the second water break, Tomas Corrigan struck for a Fermanagh goal and it left Laois trailing by 1-10 to 0-7.
Having not played well prior to that, it looked a big hill for Laois to climb.
They did get the next two points from O’Carroll and Walsh but a straight red card for Kieran Lillis in the 64th minute, left Laois to see out the remainder of the game with 14 men.
With three minutes of normal time they were still five points down but Walsh’s penalty got it back to two and then added a free to leave one in it.
From the resulting kickout, Laois turned it over and Walsh was put through for his second goal.
Moments later, the lively Brian Byrne cut through the Fermanagh defence and set up Paul Kingston for Laois’s third goal.
Sub Michael Keogh and another Walsh free meant Laois won by seven in the end – an incredible 12-point turnaround.
Impact of the subs
The Laois subs used all made a positive impact after coming on with Brian Daly, Eoin Buggie and Michael Keogh all chipping in with points from play.
Daly came on for the injured John O’Loughlin midway through the opening half and it was his longest spell on the field for the Laois seniors. He got on a nice amount of ball and kicked a lovely score while Shane Bolger and Mark Barry made a big impression too.
Umpires unsure of themselves
Had Laois lost this game narrowly, then they’d probably have been bitter over two points that Fermanagh were awarded midway through the second half.
Both Tomas Corrigan and Ryan Jones were awarded points that were hotly disputed by the Laois defenders with the umpires in both cases taking an age to decide on.
It didn’t matter in the end but if it had you can be sure it would have been raised.
Laois have used plenty of players over the last two games with Seamus Lacey and Shane Bolger making their first appearances today.
Brian Daly got about 50 minutes today while Diarmuid Whelan played almost a full game last week. When you add in Mark Barry, Brian Byrne and Sean O’Flynn who played last week there has been an infusion of plenty of new faces since the season resumed and they’ll all have benefitted from the game time ahead of the championship.
What it means for Division 2
Fermanagh were already relegated while Laois needed to win and hope that one of Clare, Cavan or Kildare lost to Armagh, Roscommon or Westmeath respectively.
With Clare losing to Armagh and Cavan losing to Roscommon, it meant that Laois finished on seven points alongside Westmeath and Cavan and Clare on six each.
Cavan, last year’s beaten Ulster finalists, are relegated on the head to head record having lost to Clare in the earlier rounds of the league back in the spring.
At the other end of the table, Roscommon were crowned Division 2 champions and return to the top division again. Armagh are also promoted.
Staying in Division 2 also means that Laois are more protected from playing in the second tier Tailteann Cup competition in 2021, if that proceeds as planned.
How Division 2 will look next year
Cork and Down will be promoted from Division 3 and Meath are already relegated from Division 1 and will be joined by one of Mayo, Monaghan or Tyrone.
It means that the Division 2 in 2021 will be comprised of: Kildare, Westmeath, Clare, Laois, Meath, Cork, Down and one of Monaghan, Tyrone or Mayo.
After two useful league games, Laois have now a two-week break before they are in championship action.
Louth and Longford play next weekend in a preliminary round game with Laois to play the winners the following week – that game is fixed for O’Connor Park in Tullamore.
On the same side of the draw, Dublin play Westmeath with the winners of that to play the winners of Laois/Longford/Louth.
On the other side, Carlow meet Offaly with the winners to play Kildare while Wicklow meet Wexford with Meath awaiting the winners.