Laois’s spark of self-belief becomes a winning flame at O’Moore Park
Eddie Brennan knew Laois could fell Dublin – he just had to make his players believe it too
Ryan Mullaney leads the Laois celebrations at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, after their victory over Dublin in the All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final on Sunday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Laois hurling people, Laois players and all the children that invaded O’Moore Park before, during and after this battle needed someone to spark the inner belief. They needed convincing that beating Dublin, for the first time since 2005, was a natural progression in their sporting existence now Eddie Brennan is walking the line for each and every one of them.
We know Brennan believes any team can be felled. The black-and-amber sharpshooter of an eternal generation knows how to beat Dublin in his sleep. Hell, he knows how to beat Tipperary in Croke Park on any given Sunday. He has always known. Born into belief.
Turns out his influence – and that of Niall Corcoran – has dismantled the promise of a Dublin hurling explosion for another year.
“Right from minute one our tackles were right on the meat,” said Brennan with an infectious calmness only a Kilkenny hurler with a chest of medals can possess. “We set the tone. Every time Dublin responded we were able to go back up and keep punching. That has been a trait of this team all year long.”
I rang Niall Corcoran on the road up and just said, ‘I think we are right here. I think we have them’
And to think these Laois hurlers were encouraged to celebrate capturing the McDonagh Cup last weekend with a Monday session on the beer. Still, come Friday night, as Brennan drove home, he felt the need to phone his coach despite only parting company with him a few minutes beforehand.
“I rang Niall Corcoran on the road up and just said, ‘I think we are right here. I think we have them,’ because the players drove on the meeting, they drove on the training.
“When they believe in themselves – that was the difference – and today right from minute one they were well tuned in. We said to them, ‘don’t be afraid of the occasion. Go and enjoy it. And go at it. If anyone is under pressure today it is the guys up the hall.’”
But Laois players needed a moment. The crowd craved it. Something to allow them clear their throats. Any one of Willie Dunphy’s four scores would do just fine, or the corner forward’s never-say-die attitude to create Aaron Dunphy’s historic goal. Or the sight of Mark Kavanagh twisting in agony after pointing his last free yet refusing to leave the field.
When I seen it passing the halfway line, I knew it was going over the bar
But the true moments belong to Enda Rowland. All four of them. The Laois goalkeeper stood tall to deny Eamon Dillon’s seemingly certain goal as Dublin grew into the battle. The St Lazerian’s club in Abbeyleix will forever mention the frees dropped from deep in Laois territory. The second strike as injury time arrived was inside his own 45. The distance may grow over time but on this morning it feels like 120 yards.
“I knew the minute I struck it,” said Rowland. “I threw it up right, I got the strike right and I said I knew it was going well, then when I seen it passing the halfway line, I knew it was going over the bar. It was unreal, it was a massive part of the game to get the score, so thankfully it went over.”
If the story of this victory must be told in one incident, it should be Rowland’s save of Danny Sutcliffe’s bullet. There were 47 minutes on the clock when Sutcliffe let fly close enough to see the whites of Rowland’s eyes.
The Laois goalkeeper acrobatically refused to blink.
Tipperary in Croke Park next Sunday. An All-Ireland quarter-final. The Laois manager can tell them all about this sort of challenge in the big house against these Premier hurlers.
Brennan knows they are listening to him now.