Offaly up for the fight as Laois collapse in Tullamore

Faithful County avoid early season disaster to make their way into Leinster semi-final

Offaly’s Shane Dooley celebrates his goal with Joe Bergin. Photograph: Tom Beary/Inpho

Offaly’s Shane Dooley celebrates his goal with Joe Bergin. Photograph: Tom Beary/Inpho

 

Offaly 3-22 Laois 2-14

It was a day when Offaly’s scramble away from the trapdoor was a much more powerful motivational tool than Laois’ attempts to grasp the next rung in the ladder. The home team in O’Connor Park, Tullamore were full value for their 3-22 to 2-14 win, outscoring their opponents by 2-12 to 1-4 in a second half that threatened at stages to get embarrassing for Laois.

With the clock still showing four minutes to go, the public announcer invited all Club Faithful members over to the GAA centre across the road “for a cup of tea to celebrate Offaly’s win”… It got a laugh from the crowd, but in truth he could’ve put the kettle on about 20 minutes earlier.

Offaly manager Eamon Kelly has had a rough couple of weeks, with defeat in their opening game of the Leinster round-robin series to Westmeath sparking a barrage of criticism locally. A week later they had to travel to play Carlow, and what might have been a definitive low point in their hurling history. Now they have a Leinster semi-final against Galway to look forward to.

A visibly relieved Kelly said after the game yesterday - “Pressure? The biggest pressure was the day against Carlow because of the first round defeat, and the consequences of losing it was going into the Christy Ring. So we felt after that, we had to look at ourselves, let’s take the shackles off and back ourselves.”

In the end the round-robin series, which looked as if it could become calamitous for Offaly was the making of them. Both managers referenced Offaly’s three games already this season as a reason for their superior freshness, touch and cohesion, but that advantage only really made itself known after the break. James Mulrooney’s goal for Offaly after 22 minutes looked to be the key moment of the half, and with five minutes of the half left Offaly led 1-9 to 0-7, without looking particularly impressive.

But the last five minutes saw a Laois turnaround, led by their captain Charles Dwyer (their best performer all day), who hit two quick-fire points before PJ Scully bundled a rebounded shot to the net from close in. The half ended with the teams level, 1-10 apiece, and Laois would have the advantage of a stiffening breeze.

But the vital moment of the game was Joe Bergin’s goal for Offaly after 48 seconds of the second half, when he found the net with a sweetly struck low shot across the keeper’s body into the bottom right hand corner. The effect the goal had on his team-mates appeared immediate - they hurled with greater freedom, shot with far greater conviction and made their superior match sharpness tell all over the field.

Laois’ failure to muster any sort of a challenge in the second half was a mystery to their manager Seamus Plunkett. “The goal hurt us, but generally teams would be able to work their way back into it. It was something I referenced in the last week… that leadership you get from experienced players. We probably missed that a little bit today, particularly when the pressure came on in the first 15-20 minutes of that second half. When a team gets momentum like that, you have to work really, really hard to get back into the game, and we just didn’t seem to be able to do that.”

The second half collapse will haunt Laois, but Offaly had 11 scorers, with plenty of room for improvement from their two main men Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin, and had Sean Gardiner, Sean Ryan and others impressively up for the fight. It’s still a long way back to the top but this was a vital step on the road.

Offaly - J. Dempsey; P. Rigney, D. Shortt, C. McDonald, D. Mooney, S. Gardiner (0-1), D. King; S. Ryan (0-1), P. Camon; P. Murphy (0-1), J. Bergin (1-1), S. Kinsella (0-3), K. Connolly (0-1), J. Mulrooney (1-0), S. Dooley (1-11, 1-0 pen, 9 frees, 2 ‘65’s)

Subs - C. Kiely (0-1) for Shortt (h/t), L. Langton (0-1) for Connolly (56 mins), S. Cleary (0-1) for Mulrooney (60 mins), J. Sampson for Ryan (63 mins), D. Kelleher for Mooney (68 mins)

Laois - E. Rowland (0-1); C.Healy, D.Maher, D. Palmer, R. Mullaney, M. Whelan, L. Bergin; C. Stapleton, J. Lennon; P. Purcell, C.Dwyer (0-5), S. Maher (0-2, 1 free), W. Hyland (0-1), N. Foyle (0-2), P.J. Scully (1-3, 3 frees)

Subs - B. Conroy for Stapleton (44 mins), T. Delaney for Mullaney (48 mins), W. Dunphy (1-0) for Scully (51 mins), R. King for Lennon (58 mins), O. Carroll for Delaney (inj., 66 mins).

Referee: Johnny Ryan

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