The Laois minor footballers have qualified for the Leinster semi final for the second successive year following a hard-fought two point win over Longford on Saturday evening.
Donncha Phelan’s men looked home and hosed three minutes from half time as they led 2-9 to 0-4 but the home side mounted a comeback.
They scored two goals either side of half time and narrowed the gap back to two points but they couldn’t get any closer and are now out.
Here we take a look at the Talking Points from the game.
1 – Man of the match – Brian Whelan
The choice here was between the Ballyroan-Abbey man and his fellow Portarlington attacker Rioghan Murphy.
Both players made telling contributions and while Murphy scored 2-1, Whelan just shades it with a tally of seven points.
Whelan was quiet in Round 1 until he stepped up to nail two late frees to rescue a draw against Carlow and he has really kicked on from there. The move to centre forward in this game really suited him and he has a wand of a right boot.
2 – A real eye for goal
After failing to register a goal in their first game draw with Carlow, Laois have scored five since in the wins over Westmeath and Longford.
Goals from Oisin Hooney, PJ Ward and Brian Whelan helped them get the better of Westmeath in Round 2 while a Rioghan Murphy brace did the trick against Longford.
With goals coming from four different players in the three games, it shows the scoring power that all of the forward players possess.
3 – Game saving blocks and saves
Two pieces of defensive brilliance proved crucial for Laois in the shake up. The first came from keeper Michael O’Connell in the first half as he dived full length to deny Keelin McGann at point blank range.
And then in the dying embers of the second half, with the game firmly in the balance, wing back Simon Fingleton came from nowhere to block a goalbound effort from the dangerous Longford full forward Jack Duggan.
His bravery was similar to that shown by Sean Greene last week in the last seconds against Westmeath and is a fantastic trait for any team to have.
4 – Power and pace
This Laois team is packed with power and pace – particularly in the form of their several ball carriers.
Shaun Fitzpatrick, Eddie Critchley, Mark Kehoe, Oisin Hooney and PJ Ward are all very capable of carrying ball from deep and breaking tackles which creates overlaps and inevitably leads to scoring chances.
5 – Injury situation
The fact that Laois have managed to go through all three games without defeat is remarkable given the incredible amount of injuries that manager Donncha Phelan has had to deal with.
Vice-captain Oisin Byrne and defender Eamonn Delaney have yet to kick a ball as they recover from knee and ankle injuries respectively while Ciaran O’Neill (broken toe) and Ciaran Burke (concussion) have been sidelined since the Carlow game.
Burke made a return from the bench against Longford on Saturday but had to be replaced again after receiving another injury.
Meanwhile, midfielder Kevin Swayne did ankle ligament damage in the first half of the win over Westmeath.
Laois now have almost five weeks to prepare for a semi final and getting all of those lads back to full fitness will be important.
6 – Signs of progression at this grade once again?
After years in the wilderness at minor level, there are signs now that Laois are becoming competitive at this grade once again.
After last winning Leinster in 2007, Laois went nine years before they reached the final again in 2016. Last year saw them reach the semi final and they are now back at that stage once more.
To have our minors competing at the latter stages of the competition regularly is very important for the future.
7 – How things now stand
Laois have finished top of Group 1 and go straight through to the Leinster semi final with Westmeath finishing in second place. Carlow and Longford are out.
8 – What’s Next?
Laois now take their place in the Leinster semi final alongside Kildare as group winners.
They will be joined by the two teams who come through the quarter finals. Westmeath host Meath in one while Wicklow face Dublin in the other – both of those games are on Saturday June 1.
Laois’s Leinster semi final will be on Saturday June 22.