Saturday 20 January 2018

The King of Laois

MAYBE it's a sign of how far Laois stock has fallen from the giddy Leinster heights of five years ago, but they were rescued from the 'back door' abyss by a 17-year-old rookie on Saturday night.

But not any old youngster. Donie Kingston won't sit his Leaving Cert until next year but has been flagged as a precocious talent for some time.

In Pearse Park, making his SFC debut, he delivered on that potential with the scores that saw Laois -- two points adrift of Longford rivals who had all the momentum -- come with a last-quarter surge to win by 1-10 to 0-11.

His efforts effectively ended the Luke Dempsey era. The Longford boss later confirmed his resignation after four years of promise but no silverware, saluting the players and county board but delivering a stinging rebuke to the local club fixture-making body, the CCC, for giving him just ten days to prepare for the qualifiers.

Kingston scored 1-3 during that late Laois salvo, 1-2 coming from play. His stats could actually have read 3-1, for he had goal on his mind with two shots that fizzed narrowly over.

By then, though, the 6' 4" teenager had already transformed this patchy contest with the only goal after 55 minutes, capitalising on penetrating approach play by Barry Brennan and Billy Sheehan.

"He has a huge amount of talent," enthused a relieved Laois boss, Liam Kearns. "He is physically very strong, mentally very strong, and he's as good a 17-year-old as I have seen.

"We thought we'd be taking him off the bench, but he was just playing too well in challenge matches. We were forced into playing him -- we just couldn't keep him off."

Even in the first half, when Laois struggled to make any headway with the wind, the young prodigy was their most productive outlet. Off meagre rations, he won two frees converted by Michael J Tierney and set up another point, acrobatically executed by Tom Kelly.

At the midpoint, the visitors led by 0-5 to 0-4. Soon after, Arthur O'Connor gifted a point for the otherwise ineffectual Ross Munnelly but Longford then took over, driven on by veteran midfield war-horse Liam Keenan. Laois were now playing Brian McCormack as a sweeper, to negligible effect. The home side hit four points on the bounce -- including three brilliant efforts from Paddy Dowd, a Francis McGee free and Paul Barden -- but it could have been more. Brian Kavanagh badly miscued a free and then, going for the jugular from an acute angle, hit the outside of an upright.

Suffice to say, Longford had the winning of this game but spurned too many chances (reflected in a 13-7 wide count) and also ran out of gas in the home straight. Dempsey later claimed that if he'd got his players back a week earlier, they could have won.

Laois should have Joe Higgins and Mark Timmons back from injury next weekend while Pádraig Clancy returns from suspension. "We would need to improve if we're to have any chance," Kearns admitted.

"We are hoping for a home draw, and then we'll have one of the bigger teams and either we are good enough or we are not. If we're not, there is no point in going any further. And if we are -- well then, we are within 70 minutes of Croke Park and we'll take that."

Kearns got his first wish last night: their name was first from the hat against Down. Now for the hard part: finding form that has eluded them all year.

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