Eddie Brennan’s first championship outing in charge of the Laois hurlers ended with a result that will earn him no end of gratitude from the county’s hurling supporters as they outlasted Offaly, despite coughing up a six-point lead early in the second-half.
A dominant half-back line that completely lorded the battle for Offaly’s long puckouts, better support play from off-the-shoulder runners and some heroic defensive play from Joe Phelan and Matthew Whelan close to their own goal set the platform for the Laois attack to go on and win the game.
While up front it was Mark Kavanagh’s accuracy, Charles Dwyer’s sharpness and the generally astute and incisive play of Ross King that pushed Laois over the line.
It took strength of character as well, as Offaly would have been the far happier side to be level at half time, 1-10 to 0-13. Oisín Kelly fired 1-02 for the home side in that period but no other Offaly forward made any meaningful inroads, while the wide count at the break was 11-3 with Laois having racked up the huge tally of errant shots.
Moreover, the slight breeze was set to favour Offaly in the second half, as was – far more significantly – the low setting sun.
Yet none of that could compensate for the greater hunger and sharpness of Laois in the middle third, and the O’Moore County soon moved six points ahead after half time.
Ross King got his team out to a great start with the opening score and the O’Moore County quickly followed up with a Paddy Purcell goal, soon to be followed up with another from Charles Dwyer.
Offaly scored a turnover goal of their own when Conor Mahon earned possession in the left corner that was ultimately fired to the net by Oisín Kelly.
But Laois came again with a run of scores to go six clear – a Eanna Lyons their goalscorer after Mark Kavanagh gracefully cut over a sideline ball and Dwyer returned a short restart with interest.
This time the Offaly reply was emphatic, and it looked as if it might be decisive, as they shot 1-4 without reply.
Conor Mahon sprinted through the heart of the defence and picked out the top corner from 12 metres out for the crucial score, but much like their neighbours, the Faithful county failed to shut up shop defensively for any length of time,
Once Laois settled with excellent scores from Kavanagh and Conor Phelan, it was clear that this contest was going to come down to one or two key moments.
In the end, there were two. A high ball into the Offaly square broke to Stephen Bergin and he slammed the ball past Cahill from close range, then in added time Joe Bergin fielded the ball on the edge of the Laois square, but didn’t get any power into his shot and it was easily saved by Enda Rowland, which was enough to see Laois home.
Laois: Enda Rowland; Donncha Hartnett, Joe Phelan, Matthew Whelan; Padraig Delaney, Ryan Mullaney, Lee Cleere; John Lennon, Jack Kelly; Charles Dwyer (1-03), Willie Dunphy (0-01), Paddy Purcell (1-01); Mark Kavanagh (0-11, 0-08 frees, 0-01 sideline), Eanna Lyons (1-01), Ross King (0-04).
Subs used: Conor Phelan (0-01) for Lennon (48), Neil Foyle for Lyons (58), Aaron Dunphy for Kelly (63), Stephen Bergin (1-00) for Dunphy (66), Eric Killeen for J Phelan (70+8).
Offaly: Eoghan Cahill; Paddy Rigney, Ben Conneely, Tom Spain; Colm Gath (0-01), Pat Camon, Niall Houlihan (0-01); David O’Toole Greene (0-01), Kevin Dunne (0-01); Cillian Kiely, Shane Dooley, Colin Egan (0-01); Conor Mahon (1-01), Joe Bergin (0-11, 0-07 frees), Oisín Kelly (2-03).
Subs used: Conor Langton (0-01) for Kiely (58), James Gorman for Dooley (66), Dermot Shortt for O’Toole Greene (69)
Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim)