Laois show class and instinct for survival

 

THE issue of which of these sides felt the greater need culminated in Laois clambering halfway into the Division One lifeboat from this National Football League tie at Portlaoise yesterday.

However, their prospect of ultimate survival still rests with a relegation play-off against Kildare, only a year after they topped the table.

Tyrone, meanwhile, lost the chance of a place in the knockout stages through their own indifferent form and some rather curious results elsewhere. But that shouldn't dilute the merit of an outstanding Laois performance which contained a goal of the highest quality.

That goal, scored by right half forward Ian Fitzgerald in the 15th minute, had an enormous impact on the game. It led to a situation whereby the Northerners trailed by 1-5 to 0-5 at half time and however determined their later efforts, that precious margin seemed to confront them like a spectre.

Michael O'Brien made the initial opening down the left side. The right corner forward then noticed Fitzgerald running shoulder-to-shoulder down the right with Tyrone's Brendan Mallon. The pass couldn't have been better timed Fitzgerald edged ahead of his marker at the critical moment and then Unleashed a glorious, left-foot shot which rose into the roof of the net.

It provided a priceless sparkle as players attempted to cope with treacherous conditions caused by a vicious hailstorm 30 minutes before the throw-in. Indeed the surface might have been considerably worse but for the fact that, with Tyrone's approval, the start was put back half an hour to accommodate domestic situations for two Laois players.

Still, Laois started impressively, scoring four points without reply before Fitzgerald's goal gave them a lead of 1-4 to 0-2. Even at that early stage, however, poor finishing was already in evidence in the Tyrone attack when in the 13th minute, Damian Gormley and Peter Canavan both squandered fine chances of a goal in rapid succession.

Indeed the Ulster side had probably four outstanding goal chances before Gerard Cavlan eventually found the net in the 60th minute when it hardly mattered. In the 30th minute Cavlan's pass to Gormley was too early Canavan made the same mistake in attempting to set up the same player seven minutes later and in the 43rd minute Fergal Logan had the ball in the net only to have the effort disallowed for an infringement

With those sort of chances, none were certainly in a position to book a place in the quarter-finals. Their inability to finish the job, however, reflected a weakness in an attack which lacked its customary confidence in scoring situations. They certainly couldn't consider themselves unlucky.

Laois, on the other hand, competed with admirable honesty and determination in giving their best display for several months. After the early supremacy of Fitzgerald, it was small wonder that Tyrone decided to replace Mallon at halftime by way of remedial action. And a Laois defence in which the full back trio of Jeremy Kavanagh, Cyril Duggan and Tom Conroy were quite outstanding, scrambled brilliantly when the pressure became intense late in the match.

A measure of their success was that for 59 minutes - until Cavlan's last-gasp goal - they held Tyrone's forward line of Canavan, Cush et al, to only four points from play. And they never panicked, even when the Northerners rallied desperately during the final quarter.

Through a pointed free by Canavan in the 40th minute, Tyrone closed the gap to one point - 0-8 to 1-6 - at a critical stage of the game. Then we witnessed the essential difference between the teams. First, Tyrone's fowards wasted more crucial scoring chances before their defence conceded frees which resulted in three successive points from Damian Delaney.

With the gap increased to tour points and 14 minutes remaining, Laois held their nerve brilliantly. P J Dempsey in midfield and a gifted half forward line of Fitzgerald, Hugh Emerson and Michael Lawlor remained dominant while Leo Turley in the left corner foraged marvellously from deep positions.

In fact when their survival prospects eventually became clear. Laois had reason for optimism about their prospects against Kildare.