Moral victory little consolation for brave Laois
Aonghus Callanan’s late goal puts an end to brave challenge from the homeside
Zane Keenan of Laois gets his shot away under pressure from Galway’s Shane Kavanagh. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Galway 2-17 Laois: 1-13: Wow. It’s not often a team gets a standing ovation coming off the field at half-time, and the great pity for the Laois hurlers is that they couldn’t quite earn themselves the same plaudit at the end of time.
It’s not often you have to congratulate the losing manager, either, although Séamus Plunkett wasn’t in the mood afterwards for any talk of “moral victories”. In fact Plunkett bore the disappointed look of a man knowing his Laois team might well have written one of the biggest upsets into the championship summer, if only a little more of their brave and utterly committed challenge had gone to plan.
Indeed the Galway manager Anthony Cunningham had a similarly disappointed look about him too, knowing his team spent a little too long staring down the barrel of defeat before booking their place in the Leinster final.
The reigning champions only secured their seven-point victory margin in the last 10 minutes, and approaching the hour mark Galway still trailed Laois by a point – Tommy Fitzgerald’s brilliant goal keeping alive the prospect of shock victory in the cool Portlaoise air.
The quality and confidence of Laois’ game wasn’t entirely surprising (having beaten Carlow and Antrim already) although there was still the glaring backdrop of last summer, and the 22-point defeat to Dublin, and 25-point defeat to Limerick – not forgetting the 10 goals and 20 points they conceded to Cork in 2011.
However, defying the deathly odds from the very start, Laois put Galway under pressure and kept at it throughout – the beaten All-Ireland finalists failing badly to live up to the favourites tag.
Laois didn’t just put it up to Galway mentally and physically but tactically too, adopting a seven-man defence, Cahir Healy taking up the sweeper role, while Fitzgerald isolated himself in the full forward position.
Laois rattled off the first four points without reply – Zane Keenan and Stephen Maher straight to the fore – while Galway’s first score from play didn’t come until the 10th minute. Laois were also playing a smarter, quicker game, admittedly aided by the breeze, and while Joe Canning levelled it up again after 19 minutes, it was Laois who pressed on – hitting three more points without reply, and fully deserving of their 0-8 to 0-7 advantage at the break.
Without Canning Galway would have been in serious trouble. Indeed Laois might have been further ahead had Joe Fitzpatrick’s point on 31 minutes not being declared wide, when the umpire clearly couldn’t make up his mind and only Hawk Eye could have confirmed it for everyone else.
The pressure on the Leinster champions was clear, although they did up their game in the second half: Damien Hayes made a good impact when coming off the bench and after both sides exchanged points – the best of them still coming from Laois – Galway edged two points ahead, on 55 minutes, as Laois nerves took a grip too, resulting in some costly wides.
Then came Fitzgerald’s firestarter of a goal, laid on by substitute Neil Foyle. The finish from close range was sweet, although the Laois supporters barely had time to register their excitement before Galway hit back at the other end, Canning’s pistol shot brilliantly saved, only for Davy Glennon to fire in the rebound.
In the end the loudest round of applause was for the Laois players, who deep down inside must have felt at least some tinges of a moral victory.