Laois returned to the All-Ireland Quarter Finals for the first time since 2006 with a three point win over Meath in Tullamore. Emmet Ryan analyses the strategic factors that led to the O’Moore county’s win.
Laois go big early
With the wind at their backs, the O’Moore county left no doubt about their objective in the first half. Long range chances were sought and taken repeatedly. 7 of the 10 scores Laois recorded in the first half came from play, with 6 of those scores coming from 35 metres or more. While there were some ill-judged efforts, the gamble of going long at-will paid off handsomely. Justin McNulty’s second option of going in high to Padraig Clancy was not as effective. Clancy was well-marshalled when used as a deep threat but he enjoyed more success when he came out the field.
Meath fail to adapt to conditions
While Laois revelled in the elements, Meath struggled to cope in every department. Up front they were forced into a short passing game as any mid-range or long balls they tried were skewed well off target. The Royals weren’t enjoying much success killing the clock as they repeatedly turned possession over cheaply, enabling Laois to press forward yet again. Meath were efficient with the chances they had, recording their first wide in the final minute of the half, but their inability to retain the ball led to a dearth of scoring opportunities.
At the other end of the field goalkeeper David Gallagher never got to grips with the elements in the first half. Having sent three kick-outs out of play inside of 12 minutes, the Meath keeper mis-judged a Brendan Quigley shot on 13 minutes. Instead of coming out to claim the short effort, Gallagher waited for the ball to bounce and ended up tipping the ball over the bar. His malaise reached its nadir on 25 minutes. A shot from Clancy fell short but Gallagher struggled to gather the ball and was dispossessed by Colm Kelly. The Royals’ net-minder felled Kelly in the large rectangle and Ross Munnelly converted the subsequent penalty. This series of unfortunate events led to Laois owning a commanding lead at the break.
Midfield adjustment helps Laois play keep-ball
Laois hadn’t gone after Meath inside in the first half, giving the Royals cause for hope. The O’Moore county however made a significant switch to allow them to keep piling on the pressure in the second half. Clancy, who wasn’t working out as a target man, dropped closer to midfield and gave Laois an extra presence when contesting kick outs. McNulty’s charges increased their advantage to 10 points with 3 scores from play to start the second half. The third, a Clancy score, came off yet another Meath turnover.
The Royals eventually started using the wind to narrow the gap but mistakes in possession kept them from gaining momentum, with one leading to a goal chance for Quigley on 47 minutes. By contrast Laois displayed superb ball security up until the closing stages, when a couple of rash moves in attack cost them the chance to bleed the clock.
Meath stifled by Laois defence
With their defence lacking the discipline that enabled counter-attacks against Kildare, Meath’s forwards struggled to pressure the Laois defence for most of the game. The one consistently effective option for the Royals was Joe Sheridan, whose flick-ons from high balls led to several scoring chances for Meath. The most notable was Jamie Queeney’s shot on goal that nearly decapitated the umpire as it went wide.
Frees provided the bulk of the Royals scores and not by choice. Brian Farrell scored 0-8 from dead balls and Stephen Bray brought the total to 9 against just 4 scores from play. Laois went all out to stop Meath breaking through for goal chances, conceding three frees in scoring range in the last seven minutes in their efforts to deny Meath room to break forward. When the Royals finally got a chance on goal, it required swift passing to avoid the Laois pressure. Farrell fed Peadar Byrne who played a one-two with Sheridan before finishing. Unlike Meath’s comeback against Dublin, which saw them capitalise on the Leinster champions poor execution, this Royal rally was a direct result of McNulty’s tactics. Going in hard from the start of the second half. Laois knew they were playing a dangerous game. The objective was to give Meath fewer opportunities to hurt them with a major and it took something special to finally break the line. Lightning didn’t strike twice for the Royals and they never came close to threatening the Laois goal again.
Like so many before them, Meath failed to recover from losing a provincial final and were promptly sent packing from the All Ireland series. The Royals have been a model of inconsistency in 2012 but their last three championship displays had given them a strategic identity. Banty’s men were organised and opportunistic on their way to the Leinster Final. That structure fell apart in the wind and rain of Tullamore on Saturday. Unable to control play in their own half, Meath were relying on their forwards to pick up the slack. Laois, having looked tentative early at the back, prevented the Royals from pressing inside and outside of Sheridan’s aerial work their was no threat in open play.
Laois made the most of the conditions early and didn’t let the elements deter them in the second half. That fundamentally was the difference between victory and defeat. It was a smart game, low on mistakes, with Laois proving far more prolific at creating scoring chances. The O’Moore county went 16 of 29 on the day, not exceptionally efficient but more aggressive than Meath’s 13 of 20.
McNulty has brought a hard brand of Football to a Laois team that has endured a roller-coaster 12 months. Promotion to Division 1 was followed by an uninspiring championship campaign in 2011 and relegation back to Division 2 in the spring. The O’Moore county has made the most of the back-door since being humbled by Longford. A first trip to the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals since 2006 beckons. Laois don’t look a threat to go any deeper in the championship but they will enter Croke Park next weekend playing with house money.
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Programming note: We’ll have previews for each of the four Quarter Finals but as this is going live before the draw, we don’t know the order they will go live yet. An updated schedule will be on our Facebook page as soon as we have one.