The sense of relief when the final whistle blew in Austin Stacks Park among Laois supporters, management and team was palpable.
This victory was hugely important after a year when The Kingdom seemed to have the Indian sign over Laois to go down and beat them on their own scorched turf was a significant day in the development of this young team.
They may not have impressively removed the monkey off their backs but they certainly have knocked him back and successive victories are important. More importantly this was the fourth successive victory for Eamon Kelly’s side and that must instil a degree of confidence for the challenges ahead. When did a Laois senior hurling team last win four competitive matches on the trot? It is a huge achievement for Eamon Kelly and Co considering where they started late in 2016 and the heavy defeats they shipped earlier in the season.
Again, with players adding to a long injury list changes were forced upon the management team before the start of the game. With Cahir Healy and Willie Dunphy already ruled out from the Meath game then came the news that Ben Conroy was out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury that necessitates surgery. He was replaced by Ryan Mullaney who then picked up an injury early in the first half.
There is so much to admire about Eamon Kelly and his honesty and passion is rare in intercounty managers. He has admitted numerous times in recent months that he and his management have made mistakes and he takes it on the chin and moves on. He is learning with his squad every day. He is not afraid to change his backroom team, to discard and add personnel. That has to be admired and the recent addition of Oisin McConville is innovative to say the least.
On Sunday, they seemed to have got it wrong in the opening half as the defence in particular looked out of shape and vulnerable as a result. From the stands, it was difficult at times to see who was playing where and the players looked a little confused as to their roles. A couple of players were holding the defence together. At half time supporters were asking the questions and I hadn’t the answer.
The management had however, as the team lined out for the start of the second half the positions were clearly defined. All six stood in their positions and went on to man them with authority for the final 39 minutes. Cha Dwyer was centre back flanked by Matthew Whelan and Ciaran Collier and suddenly the whole defence tightened up and proved the foundation for victory.
The introduction of Aidan Corby in the midfield role was a masterstroke. Aidan has been started and introduced in many games this year and had failed to make a real impression and while full of skill looked a little light for the challenge. In the midfield role, however he revelled, was strong on the ball and was one of the main architects of the Laois victory in the second half.
Looking at the game as a whole Kerry were the better side for much of the opening half and were causing many problems for the Laois defence and it was only two brilliant saves from Enda Rowland that had Laois leading as the game entered injury time. Then disaster struck as the Kerry fired home two goals in a minute to lead by five points. The writing had been on the wall as high balls into the Kerry full forward line were causing huge problems. Both corner backs are fine hurlers but they were dwarfed by their tall and rangy opponents. This could prove a problem with higher opposition.
The ball into the Kerry full forward line was inch perfect unlike at the other end where the supply to Neil Foyle was continually overcooked. Foyle as he showed in Navan and again when setting up the goal for Paddy Purcell on Sunday likes the ball in front of him to do maximum harm.
While it was a marvellous team victory a number of players will know that their performance was below par with a couple of players struggling in successive games to show their real form. They may get that opportunity to show what they can do against Wexford and if so must grab it with both hands.
Paddy Whelan has now joined the long injury list but with Willie Dunphy and Cahir Healy ready for the fray next time in O’Moore Park competition for the starting 15 will be fierce. Every hurler worth his salt will want to play and perform against Wexford. This is what they dream of, this is what they train and make all the sacrifices for.
There is no one makes more sacrifices than Cahir Healy and while injured and unable to play on Sunday he still took a full part in the warmup, they proceeded to act as water boy with his ‘maor uisce’ bib on and then went in at half time and as Eamon Kelly told us afterwards had the team well warmed up in the dressing room at half time before the management arrived in. What a competitor!
It was an enjoyable trip back from Tralee for a change. Kerry beaten. Job done. Move on!