Galway survived a real scare this afternoon in Portlaoise when they had to dig deep to produce a 2-17 to 1-13 win over hosts Laois in a hugely entertaining Leinster SHC semi-final.
When Tommy Fitzgerald crashed the ball to the net in the 57th minute to give Laois a 1-10 to 0-12 lead it looked as if an upset could be on the cards.
But Galway responded immediately with a Davy Glennon goal and they tacked on a further 1-5 in the last ten minutes, cashing in as Laois began to tire after a tremendous effort for the first hour.
The 5,387 supporters who travelled to O’Moore Park for this encounter were treated to a wonderfully competitive fixture and the vast majority of home fans in the crowd wasted no time in getting behind their team, roaring them into a four-point lead after just seven minutes.
Seamus Plunkett set up his team with just one inside forward, playing John Brophy between midfield and half-forward and lining out Cahir Healy as a sweeping defender.
However, this wasn't just a containment tactic as the midlanders took control of the battle for loose possession, creating good overlaps and scoring chances in the middle third of the field.
Defensively they looked in good shape as well, with only Joe Canning, initially lined out at top of the left, making any inroads for Galway.
The Portumna sharpshooter was his county’s only scorer in the first half hour, striking three frees and two from play in that period.
The Laois tactic of picking off scores from range bore fruit as they built up an 0-8 to 0-5 lead, though they would live to regret eight first-half wides.
One of those efforts was particularly contentious, as Joe Fitzpatrick’s shot in the 32nd minute looked like a nailed-on score to those in the centre of the stand, who were perfectly in line with the flight of the sliotar.
However, referee James Owens and his umpires conferred and deemed the strike wide.
Points from David and Niall Burke just before half-time left just a point between the teams at the break, though the rapturous applause for the home side left nobody in any doubt as to which team had been more impressive.
Galway manager Anthony Cunningham brought on Damien Hayes near the end of the first half, while James Regan of St Thomas was introduced during the break.
And the two players combined to level matters after just 15 seconds of play in the second half, Hayes picking out Regan with an astute pass.
Matthew Whelan cancelled out this score with a fine long-range free - one of five points for the Laois captain and centre back - but consecutive points from Canning, David Burke and Hayes gave Galway a two-point lead with 20 minutes still to play.
With the breeze now favouring the westerners, they looked well poised to go on and secure the victory with something to spare.
However, Laois continued to hurl with incredible intensity and while they only added one more point before Fitzgerald’s goal, they continued to dominate at the defensive end of the field and so remained within striking distance.
Seamus Plunkett knew that his early alignment was never going to create many goal chances but he went to plan B midway through the half, introducing Neil Foyle with 20 minutes to go.
The big Borris-in-Ossory/Kilcotton player was the instigator of the Laois goal, fielding a long delivery between two Galway backs and laying off to Fitzgerald, who made no mistake from 10 yards out.
But the Laois lead lasted barely 30 seconds as Galway responded immediately with a goal of their own, getting a crucial slice of luck when they needed it most.
Joe Canning did well to win James Skehill’s puck-out and he drove at the Laois defence and shot for goal, only to see Eoin Reilly produce a wonderful save.
However, Reilly could only watch helplessly as the sliotar fell neatly into the path of Davy Glennon, who blasted the loose ball into the net.
A Canning free stretched the lead to three, but points from Matthew Whelan and Zane Keenan appeared to set up a grandstand finish, reducing the deficit to one, 1-13 to 1-12.
Once again, though, the depth of the Galway panel was to prove crucial.
Aonghus Callanan had replaced Niall Burke and the Liam Mellowes hurler struck for Galway’s second goal, in the 64th minute, cutting in from the left corner and striking a low shot that Eoin Reilly parried but failed to prevent from crossing the line.
Laois continued to battle to the end but, with space opening up all over the field, Galway pushed on and tacked on a string of scores, giving the scoreboard a flourish that their anaemic display scarcely warranted.
Laois: E Reilly; B Stapleton, D Maher, JA Delaney; G Burke, M Whelan (0-05, 0-04f), J Fitzpatrick (0-01); J Walsh, B Dunne (0-01); S Maher (0-02, 0-01f), Z Keenan (0-03), W Hyland (0-01); J Brophy, T Fitzgerald (1-00), C Healy.
Subs: C Dunne for Burke (45 mins), N Foyle for Brophy (49), B Duggan for Dunne (65), PJ Scully for Fitzgerald (67)
Galway: J Skehill; F Moore, K Hynes, N Donoghue; A Harte, S Kavanagh, J Cooney; I Tannian, A Smith; D Burke (0-02), N Burke (0-01), C Donnellan; D Glennon (1-00), C Cooney, J Canning (0-11, 0-07f).
Sub: D Hayes (0-02) for Donnellan (29 mins), J Regan (0-01) for Smith (HT), A Callanan (1-00) for N Burke (52), J Grealish for D Burke (66)
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)