Leinster Senior Football Championship
Laois 2-21 Wexford 1-18 (after extra-time)
By Ronan Fagan at Innovate Wexford Park
‘Man of the match’ Donie Kingston led a magnificent transformation by Laois as John Sugrue’s newly-crowned Division 4 league champions fought back to oust Wexford after extra-time in Saturday’s Leinster SFC first-round encounter at Innovate Wexford Park.
Wexford seemed likely to flip the form-book on its head after exploding clear by 1-10 to 0-3 at half-time.
But Laois held sway for much of the second-half, and overcame much frustration in front of goal when Donie Kingston netted a last-gasp penalty to help force extra-time, during which spell the midlanders were supreme to set up a June 26th quarter-final against Westmeath.
Wexford, meanwhile, must await the All-Ireland Qualifiers on June 9th.
But on a night when the Model County were celebrating the 100th anniversary of becoming the first-ever county to complete the All-Ireland senior football championship four-in-a-row between 1915-1918, the modern-day cast – who sported the replica jersey from a century ago – seemed to the turning back the years when purposefully claiming eight unanswered points inside the first 22 minutes.
Captain Daithí Waters sparked the charge when firing over after 16 seconds, and Donal Shanley (4), John Tubritt (2) and championship debutante Glen Malone also weighed in as Wexford made light of their relegation from Division 3 of the league to be raising hopes of advancing their provincial ambitions.
But Laois generated a wealth of gilt-edged goaling chances, and Wexford ‘keeper Conor Swaine made the first of several key interventions early on while the midlanders also saw a penalty call fall on deaf ears.
Gary Walsh eventually got Laois on target after 23 minutes, and Ross Munnelly, in his 70th championship appearance in his 16th inter-county campaign, shaved the gap to 0-8 to 0-2.
But Wexford threatened to romp clear when rocketing clear by 1-8 to 0-2 on 26 minutes when centre-back Naomhan Rossiter bundled the ball to an empty net. And James Stafford and Shane Doyle added to the excited Wexford mood as they extended the gap to 1-10 to 0-3 at half-time.
But with Benny Carroll replacing Gary Walsh and Donie Kingston switching inside to serve as their pivotal target-man, Laois quickly set about turning the screw in the second-half.
They closed to within 1-13 to 0-14 by the 60th-minute with Ross Munnelly and Kingston to the fore.
After some further heartbreak in front of goal, Laois finally achieved satisfaction when Kingston buried a 69th-minute penalty to level on 1-14 apiece.
The drama was added to as Donal Shanley elected to point a penalty four minutes into added-time, but, with time fasting running out, Laois refused to bow and corner-back Gareth Dillon ultimately forced extra-time (1-15 apiece).
It was practically all Laois thereafter, and midfielder Kieran Lillis goaled three minutes into added-time to seize the initiative for the visitors, who forged clear by 2-18 to 1-16 at the break before completing a deserved albeit testing passage.
Laois – Graham Brody; Ruairdhri C Fennell, Mark Timmons, Gareth Dillon (0-1); Trevor Collins (0-1), Colm Begley, Stephen Attride (capt., 0-2); John O’Loughlin, Kieran Lillis; Alan Farrell, Donal Kingston (1-6, 0-1 penalty, 0-3fs), Damien O’Connor; Ross Munnelly (0-5, 2fs), David Conway (0-1), Gary Walsh (0-1).
Subs: Benny Carroll for Walsh (half-time), Niall Donoher for Farrell (47), Paul Kingston (0-3) for Fennell (50), Darren Strong (0-1) for Conway (61), Tom Sheil for Munnelly (67). Extra-time: Finbarr Crowley for O’Connor (75); Denis Booth for Dillon (83), David Holland for Collins (87).
Wexford – Conor Swaine; Michael Furlong, Jim Rossiter, Conor Carty; Glen Malone (0-1), Naomhan Rossiter (1-0), Shane Doyle (0-1); Brian Malone, Daithí Waters (capt.); James Stafford (0-1), Ben Brosnan (0-1), Eoghan Nolan; Paul Curtis, Donal Shanley (0-9, 0-6fs, 0-1 pen., 0-1 ’45), John Tubritt (0-4).
Subs: Tiarnan Rossiter for Curtis (11), Alan Nolan for J Rossiter (35), Eoin Porter for Brosnan (50), Nick Doyle for Stafford (61), Barry O’Gorman for Doyle (69) Extra-time: David Shannon for T Rossiter (78); James Stafford for O’Gorman (78); Darragh Pepper for A Nolan (half-time extra-time).
Referee – Martin McNally (Monaghan).