The Laois hurlers went down to Limerick in the National Hurling League quarter-final in O’Moore Park this evening as the All Ireland champions proved too strong for Eddie Brennan’s side.
It was Laois’s fourth game in as many weeks following the games against Dublin, Carlow and Offaly but it brings an end to their campaign.
Here we pick out a number of talking points.
Big step up for Laois
Laois had played Offaly, Carlow and Dublin over the last three weeks and competed well on each occasion. But this was a huge step up.
Limerick were crowned All Ireland champions last August and while they only fielded six of that starting team, they were still a formidable outfit.
They were incredibly physical, were in great shape and their touch, for the most part, was very sharp.
Gearoid Hegarty was the official TG4 man of the match was a dominant figure from the start while the likes of full-back Dan Morrissey, captain Declan Hannon, Seamus Flanagan and lively corner-forward Peter Casey all looked a class apart. They brought huge physicality to the contest and laid down a marker early on.
Still it was an experience for many of Laois’s young players and it can only benefit the likes of Paudge Delaney who went up against Hegarty for long spells and Mark Kavanagh who battled well on Hannon.
Slow Laois start and 14 first-half wides
To have any chance of a making a contest of it, Laois needed to hit the ground running. Instead Limerick were straight out of the traps.
Seamus Flanagan got their first goal after just four minutes and the visitors were 1-5 to 0-1 ahead after 10 minutes. Any bit of mystery was gone from it at that stage.
The other big talking point of the first half was Laois’s struggles in front of the posts – they hit 14 wides in total. Certainly not something you want to be doing against a side of Limerick’s quality.
Huge Limerick support
Interest levels in Limerick are at an all-time high and an hour and a half before the game, their supporters were waiting outside O’Moore Park before the ground even opened.
A couple of years ago a fixture of this nature wouldn’t have merited such interest – but that’s what winning an All Ireland will do for you.
Positives for Laois?
When you lose by 17 points it’s sometimes hard to pick out positives – but Laois battled hard and could have been a lot closer at half time had their shooting not been so erratic. Instead they trailed 2-11 to 0-6.
Joe Phelan, Matthew Whelan, Ryan Mullaney and in particular Lee Cleere all put in very honest displays while Mark Kavanagh and Aaron Dunphy were the pick of the attack. Enda Rowland also pulled off a great save at one stage in the first half.
Laois won’t face a better side this year as they now turn their attention to the Joe McDonagh Cup – but there is still plenty they can take from this game.
Two new faces
Two young Laois players got their first taste of inter-county action this evening with Ballyfin’s David Connolly and Portlaoise’s Aaron Bergin both introduced in the second half.
It was a tough environment to come into but it’s always nice to see new players emerging – and we could see plenty more of them before the year is out.
What now for Laois?
Laois face a long break before their next competitive outing – the opening round of the Joe McDonagh Cup away to Offaly in May.
Closer to home the club league kicks into action in the coming weeks and there will be a number of games with county players available throughout the month of April.