His team were 8/1 favourites before last Saturday’s encounter with Leitrim and after a hard fought game that his side narrowly won, it was understandable that Laois manager Justin McNulty was a relieved man.
The former Armagh player, who won an All-Ireland medal in 2002 was eager to pay tribute to Leitrim but was also thrilled with the composure and battling qualities shown by his side when the pressure was on.
“There’s a huge sense of relief,” he conceded, adding, “It was an unbelievable effort from Leitrim throughout, they really out it up to us and our guys had to dig very, very deep and they did that when the game was in the melting pot in the second half.
“Our guys had to look deep inside themselves and ask themselves ‘how much do I want this?, how deep am I willing to dig’ and they did that. They showed their character, stuck together and kept fighting to the end and that’s why we just barely managed to eek it out.”
Despite shooting 18 wides over the course of the game, Justin was pleased that his players continued to persevere even when things didn’t seem to be going in his side’s favour.
“It’s pleasing that we kept our composure, there was a very partisan support here. The Leitrim supporters were tremendously passionate and baying for blood, baying for our blood. For our guys to keep their composure in those circumstances I have to commend them for that. Despite the numerous wides that we had and balls straight into the keepers hands we managed to scrape through but I have to commend Leitrim again.”
While some may feel that Laois may have underestimated Leitrim, Justin insisted his side were well aware of just what would lay in store for them.
“We knew coming up here it was going to be a battle, we were under no illusions. We were very well prepared for the battle and hunger and desire that Leitrim would show and when the game was in the melting pot. They had to dig deep and the boys showed tremendous character to do that, to keep their composure.”
Being such heavy favourites meant Laois were in something of a no win situation as they would have been heavily criticised if defeated but will receive little praise despite their victory and Justin acknowledged his only goal was to advance to the next stage of the qualifiers.
“This evening was all about getting through to the next round and that’s where we are and that’s where we’re happy to be. We’re very lucky to be in the next round because it was an unbelievable performance from Leitrim, I have to commend them for the effort they showed throughout in terms of their performance.”
Justin agreed that Conor Boyle’s goal was a decisive moment for his team commenting, “The goal was crucial, fortuitous but crucial. I think it was a shot dropped short, there was a fumble in the defence and Conor Boyle pounced and the good predator that he is he finished it brilliantly.”
Perhaps the difference between the teams on the day came down to one player - Brendan Quigley, and while McNulty was quick to praise the efforts of his midfielder he is hoping for more from the man who dominated the middle of the field.
“I think Brendan Quigley gave an exhibition in midfield but Brendan knows there are areas of his game he can improve on and we all know that there are major areas we can improve on from tonight.”