Relegation to Division Four of the league for the first time in over half a century made for a dismal spring for football in Laois, but Peter Creedon’s side produced a blitz of goals either side of half time in O’Moore Park to crush Longford by 4-15 to 0-16.
The win set up a tantalising local derby clash with Kildare in the quarter finals of the 2017 Leinster senior championship.
With a strong breeze blowing towards the road end of the Portlaoise venue, aiding the home cause in the opening half, Laois needed to make hay in the early stages and they certainly did, racking up nine points from nine shots on goal in the opening fifteen minutes.
The option of a route one long delivery to Donie Kingston was frequently taken by the Laois men and that tactic yielded a bountiful harvest as the big Arles- Killeen man struck three points of his own and helped to set up scores for Evan O’Carroll, Niall Donoher and his brother Paul.
However while the first quarter belonged to Laois, the second was owned by Longford, who eked their way back into contention, almost entirely on the back of some superb play from Robbie Smyth. The Longford attacker was deadly accurate from frees and from play, while several of the dead balls that he sent over the crossbar were earned by his own excellent lines of running.
There can be no doubt as to the moment when this contest turned back in favour of the home side – a two minute burst before half time which completely undid Longford’s hard work in mounting a comeback.
The three point deficit should have been reduced to two when Barry McKeon’s powerful close range shot was confirmed by TV cameras to have gone over the crossbar, however the umpire waved his effort wide and following a consultation, that was confirmed by Wicklow referee Anthony Nolan.
Several Longford players vehemently protested the decision and while they did, John O’Loughlin fielded Graham Brody’s kickout superbly and set in train an attack that ended with Paul Kingston slamming the ball inside Paddy Collum’s near post.
With the very next attack, Donie Kingston added to Longford’s misery with an immaculately placed low shot into the bottom corner of the net, leaving the visitors with a mountain to climb at 2-10 to 0-7 behind at the interval.
The strong wind would have given them some chance of mounting yet another comeback but any such dreams were crushed within another two minute spell, this time immediately after half time.
First Paul Kingston eschewed the option of an easy point to instead play in a perfect pass that ended with Alan Farrell finding the net, then the younger Kingston took advantage of a similar show of killer instinct from his brother, placing a superb low strike across Collum and into the net after Donie beat one defender with a gorgeous dummy and then took out another with an inch-perfect handpass.
The remainder of the tie was somewhat pedestrian as both sides exchanged points, over the course of the final half an hour, with nothing more at stake than the final margin.
Robbie Smyth continued to pile on the pressure and his final tally of 0-11 proved his worth in advance of the qualifiers, however Laois continued to move the ball forward with ease and were able to tack on further scores through Colm Begley, Darren Strong and John O’Loughlin to wrap up their comfortable victory.
Laois: G Brody; D Strong (0-01), D Booth, D O’Connor; E Buggie (0-01), S Attride, P McMahon (0-01); B Quigley (0-01), C Begley (0-01); A Farrell (1-00), J O’Loughlin (0-03), N Donoher (0-01); E O’Carroll (0-01), D Kingston (1-04, 0-04 frees), P Kingston (2-01).
Subs: J Kelly for O’Connor (32), G Dillon for Attride (58), J Finn for D Kingston (68), R Munnelly for O’Carroll (70), K Meaney for Donoher (70+3), S Moore for O’Loughlin (70+3).
Longford: P Collum; D McElligott, B Gilleran, A Farrell; D Brady, J McGivney, D Reynolds; J Keegan, D Masterson; B McKeon, M Quinn, R McEntire (0-01); R Smyth (0-11, 0-07 frees), L Connerton (0-01), S McCormack (0-01).
Subs: D Gallagher (0-1) for Masterson (29), B O’Farrell for Farrell (HT), L Moran for Keegan (41), C Berry (0-01) for O’Farrell (56), D McGivney for McEntire (70), D Mimnagh for Reynolds (70)
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).