Jack Nolan: Hurlers show what their true form in big win over Offaly

    Laois hurling captain Ross King

    A week is a long time in the GAA as the Laois hurlers bounced back and turned in a terrific team display to inflict the biggest defeat on Offaly since 1961

    The the only disappointment was that the winning margin should have been at least as much again against their 13-men opponents as Eamon Kelly’s charges failed to hammer home their numerical advantage to the finish.

    A week earlier I was highly critical of a minority of the team who failed to perform against Kerry. They left two vital points in Tralee that would now have Laois heading for a quarter-final spot, safe from relegation and with the freedom to throw caution to the wind in the remaining games against Limerick, Wexford and Galway.

    A tiny minority of the comments posted in response were critical of my appraisal of the game and the performance of some players and I was even accused of ‘slander’. I should point out that anyone that knows me, understands I am a passionate Laois hurling supporter in the written and spoken word and have dedicated decades in pursuit of improving the lot of hurling in the county.

    Winning on Saturday night against our greatest rivals Offaly gave me immense pleasure, even if I had to sound ‘neutral’ in my radio commentary. I  left the bias to my analyst colleagues Brian Carroll (Offaly) and Brian Stapleton (Laois). Nothing gave me greater satisfaction to see a Laois hurling team beat Offaly and in such convincing manner.

    The real difference on the day was that the character that was missing in Tralee was there in abundance against Offaly. When Kerry scored three second-half goals it rocked Laois and there was no comeback.

    When Offaly hit 1-2 without reply in the opening minutes on this occasion this team showed real character and hit 1-3 in response to grab the lead and from there to the finish they were always in control and even when the visitors staged a late comeback Laois were always comfortable.

    The other real difference was the ability to pick off points from play in O’Moore Park with four players who failed to register from open play a week earlier on fire this time round and hitting 15 points between them and the team 19 in all.

    Stephen Maher (five), Cha Dwyer (five), Ross  King (three) and substitute Cian Taylor (two) were all in scoring mode from play. But they were also fighting for and winning dirty ball and using it to real effect. All four are superb hurlers and the Offaly defence had no answer to them. Add in the industrious Paddy Whelan, target man Neil Foyle and the consistent Willie Dunphy and the Laois attack were all in fine form.

    The two straight red cards had a horrible effect on the game as it was a great contest until then. The referee had no choice in either instance but Laois were well on top when it was 15 on 15 and I believe they would have won by as much and probably more had they stayed with a full complement on both sides.

    Laois suffered a double blow with the loss of Matthew Whelan and Podge Lawlor in defence after 24 minutes but Sean Downey did make a huge contribution and proved that he is well up to the challenge.

    It was also great to have Cahir Healy back and he made an immense contribution. Enda Rowland was back between the sticks but it was the pinpoint accuracy of his puckouts that also contributed hugely to the performance of the Laois attack. It was a massive factor in the game.

    Credit where it is due this Laois team showed real character to bounce back from the Kerry setback and victory over Offaly gives them a huge confidence boost with the challenges ahead. What’s rare is wonderful! Wexford are flying high, Galway are a serious outfit and Limerick put Kerry back in their box on Sunday.

    Laois could well end up in a relegation final against Offaly or Kerry unless they at least sneak a point from one of the three big guns.

    But Saturday night’s performance was more like what these Laois players are capable of.

     

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    Jack Nolan is well-known GAA pundit having reported and commentated on games since 1972. This year he is celebrating 35 years in business in Portlaoise starting out with a small shoe repair shop and progressing to become the first locksmith in the county. He was recently elected Chairman of the Irish Locksmiths Organisation.