That was a huge relief! Laois hurlers don’t make life easy for their supporters. Once again in a game that they had wrapped up with 10 minutes to go, they were left hanging on the ropes in the final minutes and in a nail-biting injury time they just hung on for a three points victory against a dogged Westmeath side.
But in championship a win is a win and they will gratefully move on to Navan on Sunday to another tough encounter in the knowledge that victory will see them qualify for the Leinster senior hurling championship proper and a game against one of the big boys.
Eight points up with 10 minutes remaining, this was almost a carbon copy of the league play-off with Kerry. Another goalkeeping mistake and a drop in intensity and focus allowed their opponents back into the game. Conceding two unlikely goals had Westmeath just two points adrift when another goal would have lost the game for Eamon Kelly’s charges.
That they prevailed is a credit to the players as they showed huge character to hang on and ensure a hugely important victory.
This is a hugely inexperienced side with most of them under 23 and many of them under 20 and with as many as six of the team that played on Sunday making their senior championship debuts. For Lee Cleere, Aidan Corby, Aaron Dunphy, Stephen Bergin, Sean Downey and Eric Killeen this was their first taste of Leinster senior championship action and that should be remembered in the overall context. This clash will be of huge benefit in future games as most of them contributed handsomely to this victory.
Add in that Laois were forced to start without Neil Foyle, Matthew Whelan, Podge Lawlor, John Lennon, Tom Delaney and Mark Kavanagh and with number two keeper Eoin Fleming opting off the panel, the team on duty did extremely well to navigate this tricky obstacle.
They started poorly and for some reason that Eamonn Kelly could not put his finger on looked ‘flat’ in the opening half. A lucky goal helped them be on level terms at half-time.
The defence were all on their game, midfield was being bypassed but the attack and the half forward line were ineffective to say the least. In fact, only Willie Dunphy and Picky Maher were offering any threat up front.
The switch of Roddy King firstly brought about an improvement and then on the restart Maher, Paddy Purcell and King all upped their game considerably while substitute Aaron Dunphy made an immediate impact and went on to hit three fine points on his debut. Stephen Bergin and Eanna Lyons also made a significant contribution.
The introduction of Matthew Whelan was the most important change as it released Cha Dwyer back into the attack where his physicality and ball winning bore immediate results. He did a job at centre back in recent games but going forward his ability as an attacking forward is vital to the team’s progression in this championship.
This year’s round robin is a God send for this young developing side and they have two tough games ahead away from home that should be of huge benefit to them in future challenges.
It was expected that Laois and Kerry from the higher league division would progress from this group but Meath threw a spanner in the works of that scenario with an impressive defeat of the Kingdom. They will now be formidable opposition on Sunday in Navan.
This was no flash in the pan for an emerging Meath side. Last Summer they won the Christy Ring Cup even beating Antrim twice to claim the honour and recently won Division 2B with some ease.
Laois will have to be an awful lot better next Sunday but more importantly they must learn to close out a game when they are ahead and when they get a lead to hold it and finish their opponents off. Against better opposition they will not win games until they gain that killer instinct.
Credit where it is due. They have won their first championship game under Eamon Kelly and if they can learn from it, take the confidence boost it must give them and go on and win their next two games away from home it will have them in fine stead for the championship proper.
Meath minor hurlers are also in fine form and the state of hurling looks particularly healthy in the Royal county. On Saturday they provide the opposition for Laois in the minor championship quarter final at O’Moore Park where home advantage should be a major factor. Their display against Dublin was hugely commendable but they must now move up a gear and get back into a semi-final.
Minor footballers disappoint …
Laois minor footballers were a major disappointment on Saturday as they succumbed to Louth after extra time.
The performance of the appointed match officials left a lot to be desired but the team should not have been in that position at the finish as they spurned goal scoring chances, including a penalty as well as many scoring opportunities.
They had some fine players in their ranks but once again the lack of proper underage coaching was sadly evident. They too face Meath in a last chance saloon.