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Allianz FL D4 Final: Impressive Laois triumph

Laois' Eoin Lowry scoring a goal against Leitrim in the Allianz Football League Division Four Final at Croke Park. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Laois' Eoin Lowry scoring a goal against Leitrim in the Allianz Football League Division Four Final at Croke Park. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Allianz Football League Division Four Final

Laois 3-14 Leitrim 0-9

By Paul Keane at Croke Park

A thundering final quarter performance helped secure the Allianz Football League Division Four title with relative ease for Laois who will head into the Championship on a high.

Ben Dempsey's first-half goal put the Leinster outfit in the ascendancy and while Leitrim rallied bravely and reduced the gap to two points in the third quarter, goals from Eoin Lowry and Paul Kingston wrapped it up for Laois.

Laois ultimately reeled off an unanswered 2-6 in total from the 48th minute as Leitrim, playing at Croke Park for just the sixth time, failed to score again after that mini-revival.

It means that Leitrim will head into next weekend's Connacht SFC quarter-final clash with Sligo following a chastening 14-point defeat.

But Laois have capped promotion to Division 3 with the title outright and will approach their Leinster SFC quarter-final against Offaly on April 13 in confident mood.

Kingston and Lowry finished with 1-2 apiece though Evan O'Carroll was the Man of the Match. The Laois captain scored six points and played the final pass for the first two goals.

He played a key role in what is a first piece of league silverware for Laois since claiming the same title in 2018.

Leitrim were unchanged from the side that beat Tipperary in Round 7 though Laois brought in James Kelly in defence for Jack Lacey.

That was a significant switch because Kelly was detailed to man-mark Leitrim dangerman Ryan O'Rourke who fired 5-18 on the road to Croke Park including 3-3 against Wexford.

All the early drama surrounded full-forward O'Carroll at the other end of the field. The powerhouse Laois skipper struck 2-19 ahead of the final and immediately displayed his appetite for further destruction.

Twice he made terrific catches in the air in the opening quarter hour or so above Leitrim number six Mark Diffley who was handed man-marking duties. On both occasions, O'Carroll turned down the opportunity for a handy point from an advanced mark in favour of a possible goal.

He shrugged off his man on the first occasion and slammed a shot off the crossbar, eventually tapping over a free when referee Thomas Murphy hauled play back for a foul in the buildup.

O'Carroll again beat Diffley in the air in the 14th minute following a turnover and breakout at the other end, this time firing inches over the bar.

Leitrim kept themselves in the game with a series of terrific points into the Hill 16 End. Riordan O'Rourke capitalised on a pin-point, direct ball down the middle of the field which picked him out. Then Mark Plunkett sniped one from the right wing off the outside of his boot. Ryan O'Rourke clipped another tidy point after expertly chip-lifting the ball as he burst through the Laois defence.

And that's what it took for Leitrim to get a score - a piece of brilliance.

Laois, meanwhile, found scores much easier to come by and Dempsey's 18th minute goal put daylight between them for the first time.

Leitrim were badly exposed at the back when they left Shaun Fitzpatrick unmarked for an age in the right corner-forward position and Darragh Rooney eventually picked him out for Fitzpatrick to play the ball across to Dempsey for a simple palm in.

O'Carroll closed out the first-half scoring with a point for Laois from a free that he won himself, this time off Aidan Flynn, bringing his personal tally to 0-4 and leaving the favourites 1-7 to 0-6 clear at the interval.

Diffley and Donal Casey switched roles in the second-half, leaving Casey on O'Carroll and Diffley on Mark Barry.

The changes favoured Laois initially because Barry hit his first point of the game shortly after the restart and O'Carroll then went close with another goal chance that was blocked.

Leitrim still managed to cut the deficit with points from goalkeeper Nevin O'Donnell and Barry McNulty, leaving just the goal between the sides at 1-8 to 0-8.

Then O'Donnell cut over a beauty off the outside of his left foot from the left wing and suddenly just two points separated them.

That was as good as it got for Leitrim though as Laois responded strongly, picking off a point from Paul Kingston and then grabbing the Lowry goal.

The 48th minute three-point came from a turnover on the Leitrim kick-out immediately after the Kingston score, midfielder Damon Larkin breaking it down to O'Carroll who fed Lowry.

Laois now led by 2-9 to 0-9 and Barry extended the lead with his second point of the game in the 52nd minute.

The Laois management opted to rest key players in the final 20 minutes or so as they cantered to a double-digits winning margin.

Scorers for Laois: Evan O'Carroll 0-6 (2fs), Paul Kingston 1-2, Eoin Lowry 1-2, Ben Dempsey 1-0, Mark Barry 0-2, Kieran Lillis 0-1 (m), Rioghan Murphy 0-1.

Scorers for Leitrim: Nevin O'Donnell 0-3 (1f, 1 45), Riordan O'Rourke 0-2, Ryan O'Rourke 0-2, Mark Plunkett 0-1, Barry McNulty 0-1.

Laois: Killian Roche; Ben Dempsey, James Kelly, Eoin Buggie; Brian Byrne, Mark Timmons, Seamus Lacey; Kieran Lillis, Damon Larkin; Kevin Swayne, Eoin Lowry, Shaun Fitzpatrick; Mark Barry, Evan O'Carroll, Paul Kingston.

Subs: Simon Fingleton for Byrne 53, Conor Heffernan for Lillis 62, Rioghan Murphy for Kingston 63, Niall Dunne for Fitzpatrick 64, Mikie Dempsey for Swayne 65.

Leitrim: Nevin O'Donnell; Conor Reynolds, Mark Diffley, Donal Casey; Jack Gilheany; Donal Wrynn, Aidan Flynn, Jack Foley; Pearce Dolan, Barry McNulty; Mark Plunkett, Darragh Rooney, Tom Prior; Ryan O'Rourke, Riordan O'Rourke.

Subs: Evan Sweeney for Reynolds 20, Paul Keaney for Prior 42, Shane Quinn for Riordan O'Rourke 51, Adam Reynolds for Casey 61, James Rooney for Flynn 67.

Referee: Thomas Murphy (Galway).