Laois and Louth played out a hugely entertaining draw tonight at O’Moore Park and both sides will have cause to regret not taking both points after an end-to-end game that finished Laois 1-17 Louth 2-14.
Louth had the better of the first half for long spells, but a wonderful goal from John O’Loughlin drew the teams level in the 31st minute and the sides were still level at the break, 1-06 to 0-09.
Andy McDonnell and Kevin Rogers struck second-half goals for the Wee County and they led by five at one stage.
However, Laois dominated the last quarter of the game and inspired by O’Loughlin, who kicked two wonderful points, they salvaged a draw and had the better chances to claim the win in the closing moments.
Kerry referee Padraig O’Sullivan kept his whistling to a minimum throughout the first half and the players rewarded his decision to do so by engaging in an open and fair game of football, resulting in good attacking play throughout the match.
Some poor shooting meant that in the early stages, the scoreboard didn’t reflect the entertainment value of the match.
After ten minutes of play there were only two scores on the board, one for each team, while six wides were shared equally between the two sides.
Louth opened the scoring through full-forward Shane Lennon, while the response from Billy Sheehan could very easily have been a goal. Kevin Meaney played in Colm Coss, who blasted for goal from 15 yards out, but his goalbound effort was well blocked by Neil Gallagher. The rebound ran towards Sheehan but his attempt to play a first time volley into the top corner flew narrowly over.
Laois took their first lead of the game through a Ross Munnelly free almost immediate afterwards before falling into a lull as Louth went on to score five times in succession.
Kevin Rogers and Shane Lennon were first to strike, while Ronan Carroll and Derek Crilly followed up with fisted points.
Both scores were struck from tight angles as the players drove at goal from the left corner-forward position.
Shane Lennon’s third score gave Louth a four-point lead midway through the half and the contrast in the imagination and craft on show from the two attacking units was stark at this point.
It took a mistake from Louth goalkeeper Neil Gallagher to ignite the Laois comeback.
The Cooley Kickhams man aimed a short kick-out towards the right wing but failed to spot the lurking Colm Begley, who fielded the kick and drove the ball straight back over the crossbar.
Laois took heart from this score and while Louth were always capable of scoring at the other end, the midlanders at least managed to trade points.
The deficit was eliminated entirely in the 31st minute when Laois got the game’s first goal with a scintillating move.
Colm Begley took four defenders out of the game with a lovely sidestep and a beautifully timed handpass into centre back John O’Loughlin, and the Dublin-based player didn’t waste his chance, blasting a perfect shot past Gallagher.
Begley followed up with a wonderful score of his own but just as it looked as if Laois would lead at half time, Louth responded with a great move of their own and could have had a goal but for a wonderful save from Eoin Culliton.
Substitute Derek Maguire made an instant impact and he turned his man and drove at goal with his first possession, drawing the full-back and setting up Andy McDonnell. McDonnell hit a good shot towards the top corner but Culliton did brilliantly to get a hand to it and turn it around the post.
Brian White converted the resultant ’45, one of four immaculately struck dead balls from the Cooley player, and the sides were deadlocked at the break.
Again Louth were the better team in the early stages of the second quarter and after briefly falling behind, a McDonnell goal in the 37th minute turned the game.
Culliton was extremely unlucky to concede the goal after producing a great save to deny White’s first attempt, but McDonnell won the rebound and under pressure he succeeded in getting his right foot to the ball and hammering it into the roof of the net.
The lead could have been short lived as Neil Gallagher did well to deny MJ Tierney another goal for Laois, while Gary Walsh kicked a point to reduce the deficit to one when a better handpass would have given him sight of goal.
Louth continued to look sharp up front and even though Shane Lennon was forced to go off injured, Kevin Rogers and Maguire were able to terrorise the Laois backline.
Rogers produced the game’s third goal in the 52nd minute to give his team a 2-13 to 1-11 lead and while the opportunity was fortunate, the finish was clinical.
Adrian Reid made a run down the left wing and a good tackle caused the wing back to spill possession, forcing him to fly hack the ball across the goals.
A Laois defender got a touch to the ball but it only deflected it into the path of Rogers, who suddenly found himself straight in front of Culliton.
Rogers beat the custodian with a fine finish and it looked as if Louth were set to record their second victory in a week.
Louth’s inability to retain a lead cost them the points in their first road trip of the year against Westmeath and again here they allowed Laois to attack them with harsh consequences. John O’Loughlin, Peter O’Leary and Brendan Quigley all made several driving runs at their defence and that created openings.
A Gary Walsh free was followed by two O’Loughlin points in the 56th and 59th minute, and a fine Ross Munnelly score from play in between, so with scores coming freely, either side still had the winning of the game.
Gary Walsh drew the sides level in the 63rd minute with a punched score and all the momentum was with the Laois men, however Louth got their noses in front one last time when Brian White stroked a 45 over the bar.
It wasn’t to be enough however as there was time for O’Loughlin to drive forward, win one last free, and for Walsh to conclude the scoring.
MJ Tierney had a late chance to give the home side the victory but Louth defender Gerard Hoey did really well to pressurise the attacker in a one on one situation and Tierney only managed to drive the ball wide, the 12th and final wide of the game for the O’Moore County.
Laois: Eoin Culliton; Denis Booth, Mark Timmons, Peter O’Leary; Darren Strong, John O’Loughlin (1-02), Conor Boyle; Brendan Quigley, Kevin Meaney; Ross Munnelly (0-05, 0-03 frees), Colm Coss, Colm Begley (0-02); Billy Sheehan (0-01), Gary Walsh (0-05, 0-03 frees), MJ Tierney (0-02, 0-01 ‘45).
Subs: Cahir Healy for Strong, Colm Kelly for Coss, Padraig McMahon for Meaney
Louth: Neil Gallagher; John O’Brien, Dessie Finnegan, Gerard Hoey; Derek Crilly (0-01), Mick Fanning, Adrian Reid (0-01); Paddy Keenan, Brian Donnelly; Brian White (0-04, 0-02 frees, 0-02 ’45), Ronan Carroll (0-01), Andy McDonnell (1-01); Paraic Smith, Shane Lennon (0-03), Kevin Rogers (1-03, 0-02 free).
Subs: Derek Maguire for Smith, Conor McGuinness for Fanning, Conor Rafferty for Lennon, Darren Clarke for Carroll, David Reid for Rogers
Referee: Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry)