They just keep falling like bowling pins… Today, Mick Lillis announced he would be leaving his role as leader of the Laois football squad. Ergo, for the second successive summer, Laois county board will seek a new messiah to lead their charges.
Lillis had been appointed in October of last year after an underwhelming run by former Galway and Westmeath manager Tomás Ó Flatharta.
Lillis’ squad had played comparatively better football compared to the team of yesteryear but fell at the hands of Clare in Round 2A of the qualifiers a fortnight ago. In retrospect, given Clare’s performance on Saturday night in Salthill, this may not have been as condemning as it sounds.
Despite the early exit, Laois had several trips out in the Championship. They rattled Wicklow in a seven point home victory before meeting the mighty Dublin in Nowlan Park.
The Boys in Blue ensured they were dumped out of the Leinster Championship, live on television, but many still opined that Laois gave a fine performance, one which defied the eventual eleven point beating.
Drama ensued in the qualifiers as the CCCC ordered they replay their game with Armagh after they used seven substitutes in their win. It certainly paints Lillis in a complementary light that Laois came through the replay, albeit by a solitary point, despite the fracas.
When they fell at Clare’s hand, the O’Moore County spent the final twenty minutes scoreless, squandering a four point lead and surrendering the game by one point.
It marked an early exit for a county that has come to expect much longer runs into the summer. Further, they have now to embark on a journey through the sticky Division Three of the National League next year having been relegated after only one win in the spring time.
Lillis also had to deal with the reaction to his dropping of the acrimonious Gary Walsh in June. After being substituted, Walsh’s cursed his manager and his reaction cost him his place in the squad. However, Lillis relented on his decision before the first Armagh fixture.
He made further headlines in introducing figures like the maligned Anthony Cunningham and Shane Curran to the management team, as well as for his angry comments regarding the allocation of the Laois fixture against Dublin to Nowlan Park. He branded the decision a “disgrace” and “a terrible indictment of the GAA that it’s all down to money.”
In his statement today, Lillis thanked his squad and backroom team, while also hinting that there may have been internal problems which explain his sudden unplanned departure.
Lillis saved face with two (really three) wins during the summer months. However, Laois football needs an upheaval, as was hinted at by Lillis’ statement.
The golden age from the Mick O’Dwyer days limped out the door a few years ago, despite how gracefully Ross Munnelly is ageing. There is definitely more football in the likes of Donie Kingston, Colm Begley and Conor Meredith, who impressed upon his return to the panel from his studies.
However, Laois need the right man at the right time to come to their rescue; the same way that the wiry man from Waterville did just over a decade ago.