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Eight Talking Points as Laois hurlers maintain unbeaten record ahead of Joe McDonagh final

Photo Paul Dargan

The Laois senior hurlers needed two late frees from youngster Eoin Gaughan to keep their unbeaten run in the Joe McDonagh Cup alive.

They were guaranteed a final place before today’s game anyway but now they know for certain they will face Westmeath again in two weeks time in Croke Park.

Here is a more in-depth look at how the game panned out:

1 – Man of the match – Jack Kelly

There were a couple of contenders for this award with Stephen Maher, Conor Phelan and Matthew Whelan all playing very well but Rathdowney-Errill’s Jack Kelly gets the nod.

He fired over three points and won a lot of the puckouts that came his way – both Laois and Westmeath ones. It was also his ball in that helped set up Laois’s only goal for Mark Dowling.

He left the field after 58 minutes to a standing ovation and he will be nailed on to start in Croke Park in two weeks time.

2 – New players take their chance

Manager Eddie Brennan made six changes from the side that defeated Kerry with captain Paddy Purcell, Cha Dwyer, Donnacha Hartnett, Ryan Mullaney and Willie Dunphy all playing no part.

Injury ruled Mark Kavanagh and Eanna Lyons out of the Kerry win and although Kavanagh returned to the bench here, he did not make an appearance either.

Instead, there were first starts for Eric Killeen, Colm Stapleton, Conor Phelan, Mark Dowling and Stephen Bergin while Lee Cleere also came back into the team with Eoin Gaughan, Aaron Bergin, Ciaran Comerford, Lorcan Burke and Andrew Mortimer all making appearances from the bench.

All of them laid their claim for a starting berth in the final while probably the most impressive of them was Camross youngster Eoin Gaughan who came on at half time and fired four points – including two late frees which ultimately earned the draw.

3 – No injuries for Laois

With nothing really to play for here, the most important thing for manager Eddie Brennan was surely that his side got through the game without picking up any serious injuries.

And they largely appeared to have done so. Clough-Ballacolla’s Lee Cleere looked to be struggling at times with what appeared to be a dead leg but he saw out the game.

Hopefully the aforementioned Eanna Lyons and Mark Kavanagh are fully fit for the final in two weeks time.

4 – Camross contribution

For the last number of years, county champions Camross have been criticised for not having many players in with Laois at senior level.

However, a total of five of them played today with four Camross men finishing the game for Laois. Joe Phelan and goalscorer Mark Dowling started the game with Lorcan Burke, Andrew Mortimer and Eoin Gaughan all seeing game time for Laois.

In the same way that Laois football is stronger when Portlaoise players commit, the same is certainly the case here for the hurlers with Camross.

5 – Main Westmeath men show their quality 

After all the above talk about Laois, it is certainly the case that Westmeath were well capable of matching the O’Moore men in many areas of the field.

In full back Tommy Doyle, they have a hurler who would grace many of the Liam McCarthy sides while Aonghus Clarke, Ciaran Doyle and Robbie Greville aren’t too bad either.

Killian Doyle nailed all bar one of his frees and ended up with ten points while substitute Darragh Clinton came on and scored four points from play – he could well start the next day.

All of those players will be on show again in two weeks time so Laois can be well informed on what to expect.

6 – Slightly strange refereeing at the end

Referee Patrick Murphy from Carlow did a very good job throughout – letting the game flow and using the advantage rule very well.

However, the end to the game saw him make a few strange calls. He signalled for two minutes of injury time and just as that elapsed, Laois got a free in front of the stand to draw the game which Eoin Gaughan just missed.

Most people presumed the full time whistle would sound from the resulting puck-out but the referee allowed play to continue. The ball was sent forward towards Mark Dowling who was then surrounded by Westmeath players outside the 21 where a scum developed.

Usually in those situations the referee throws in the ball but Murphy saw something nobody else appeared to have and awarded Laois a free in the 74th minute which was tapped over by Gaughan to level the game.

Westmeath didn’t complain a whole lot with nothing really at stake but you can imagine the uproar if this was the final.

7 – Relegation for Offaly 

Elsewhere today, the other Joe McDonagh Cup game saw a straight shoot-out between Offaly and Kerry to avoid relegation to the Christy Ring Cup. 

Peter Geraghty’s red card proved crucial as Offaly lost their fourth successive game and drop into the third tier of hurling for 2020. It is a simply remarkable decline for a team that won the Liam McCarthy Cup in 1998.

8 – What’s Next

We know this already, but now we know for certain who Laois will face next.

Laois will now take on Westmeath in the Joe McDonagh Cup final on Sunday June 30 in Croke Park before the Leinster final.

The time has now been officially confirmed by the GAA. The game will throw in at 1.45pm with the Leinster final following on at 4pm.

After that, Laois will either play the third placed team in the Munster or Leinster hurling championship in a Preliminary All-Ireland quarter final.

The Joe McDonagh champions will face third-placed Leinster team, Dublin, while the runners-up meet the third-placed Munster team which will be determined tomorrow.

SEE ALSO – Gaughan’s late free snatches draw for Laois against Westmeath but sides will meet again in Croke Park in final