Offaly 3-20 Laois 6-10
1981 Leinster SHC semi-final
Imagine scoring 6-10 in a Leinster championship semi-final and not winning.
Imagine being a point up with a minute of normal time remaining.
Imagine having a chance to go ahead again after Offaly’s Pat Carroll had equalised only for young Laois centre-back John Delaney to be harshly done for over-carrying 100 metres from his own goal.
Imagine Offaly free-taker Pat Kirwan driving the resulting free over the bar in injury time.
And to all that imagine that one of Offaly’s first-half goals was hotly disputed, Laois claiming it went in through the side netting and only awarded after Wexford referee John Denton had consulted with his umpires.
There have been many heartbreak stories for the Laois hurlers over the years but the 1981 Leinster semi-final loss to Offaly in Croke Park has to be right up there as one of the worst.
Straight knockout, Laois’s summer was over. Offaly duly went on and won the All Ireland that year for the first time in their history.
Laois had a fine team at the time and only a few short months earlier had beaten Tipperary in the league quarter-final only to lose to Offaly in the semi-final as they had done in the opening round of the championship in 1980 the year Offaly won their first Leinster title.
Laois had qualified for the semi-final thanks to a six-point win over Westmeath in Croke Park in early June.
Two weeks later they were back in headquarters for a semi-final double header with Wexford beating Kilkenny 4-12 to 1-18 in the first game and Offaly and Laois then playing out another thriller in the second game.
On the same day Limerick beat Tipperary in the Munster semi-final, something unthinkable of now that three big games like it would all be on the same day.
In front of over 31,000 in Croke Park, Laois got off to a dream start when Christy Jones scored a penalty in the opening minute after PJ Cuddy was hauled down in the square.
“Forwards on both sides made some remarkable individual contributions,” wroted Charlie Keegan in The Nationalist newspaper. “And none more so than the sturdy Laois full forward PJ Cuddy.
“The Camross clubman was smack on form last Sunday and his personal tally of 2-2 all from play, indicates the part he played in the make-up of that big Laois tally.”
PJ and Martin Cuddy both got a goal each in the first half for Laois but Offaly kept in touch through two fortuitous goals – one a long-range free from Mark Corrigan and the other from Padraig Horan (who would later manage Laois). Horan’s goal was shrouded in controversy.
“His shot was eventually declared a goal but was originally signalled wide by one umpire,” wrote Donal Keenan in the Irish Independent.
“The umpire did not seem to know whether the ball went into the net and out through the rigging,” added Charlie Keegan in the The Nationalist.
“The green flag was raised but it was only after consultation between referee Denton and his umpires that the score was confirmed despite much protestation from Laois goalkeeper Morgan Kelly.”
Despite that Laois led by two points at the break but Offaly wiped out the lead early in the second half before PJ Cuddy struck for his second goal.
But Offaly began to pull away with another Horan goal and a couple of points from sub Danny Owens.
Yet a Mick Cuddy point, another Christy Jones penalty after PJ Cuddy was again fouled set up “the proverbial grandstand finish” went The Nationalist report.
“Martin Cuddy’s goal looked like the icing on the cake for Laois but those retaliatory points from Offaly spoiled the fairytale ending,” added The Nationalist.
“Every O’Moore player and supporter in the sweltering cauldron of Croke Park must have felt their hour of glory was at hand.
“But Offaly came back again on Sunday to deny Laois. Within seconds of that dramatic Laois goal Christy King had dispatched the sliothar upfield and there was Pat Carroll sailing high to collect the ball, break through a couple of tackles before scoring a classic point.
“The 31,000 plus crowd had probably settled for the inconclusive decision which would lead the teams to a replay. That seemed the fairest overall outcome but there was even more drama to come and with it absolute heartbreak for Laois.
“With broken time being played by Wexford referee John Denton, Laois started a movement during which centre back John Delaney gained possession and sought to make room for a shot at the posts.
“But the young Errill player was adjudged to have fouled, harshly in some peoples’ view, and Offaly were awarded a free well into their own half.
“The distance was over 100 metres and nothing of that range had been attempted for a score in this game or the preceding Kilkenny/Wexford semi-final.
“But up stepped Pat Kirwan, took some time over the shot before lifting and striking a shot which hung in the air for what seemed an eternity before comfortably clearing the Laois crossbar.
“Even at that there was another chance for Laois to grab an equaliser. The chance from well outfield fell to Billy Bohane but he did not make anything like perfect contact and the effort dribbled harmlessly wide.
“Seconds later the final whistle sounded and the Laois frustration was best mirrored by John Delaney sinking to his knees in a gesture of absolute despair.”
In his book Hungry Hill, Pat Critchley also recalled the game.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that the goal was a wide ball,” he wrote.
“Padraig himself admitted as much … the ball was picked up outside the net on the same side. Unless the laws of physics have changed the angles don’t add up.
“It was impossible for the ball to have entered the net and end up where it did.
“Johnny Flaherty, as cute as a fox, shouted ‘GOAL’. The ould lad that was at the post and ducked now panicked and went for the green flag. Us green naive Laois players didn’t protest strongly enough.
“The referee didn’t investigate enough or think logically about the situation. The goal stood.”
In the same book, Critchley acknowledged that Offaly were more mature as a team at that time. Laois would draw with Offaly in the semi-final the folllowing year before losing the replay.
They would later reach the Centenary Cup final in 1984 and the Leinster final in 1985, though a big breakthrough unfortunately eluded that fine Laois side of that era.
SCORERS – Offaly: Mark Corrigan 1-5, Padraig Horan 2-2, Pat Carroll 0-5, Liam Currams, Pat Kirwan and Danny Owens 0-2 each, Brendan Bermingham and J Flaherty 0-1 each. Laois: PJ Cuddy 2-2, Martin Cuddy 2-0, Christy Jones 2-0, Billy Bohane 0-3, Michael Walsh 0-3, Mick Cuddy 0-1, Martin Brophy 0-1
LAOIS: Morgan Kelly; Joe Doran, John Bohane, Gerry Ring; Christy Jones, John Delaney, Andy Lanham; Mick Cuddy, Michael Walsh; Billy Bohane, Martin Cuddy; Martin Brophy, Pat Critchley, PJ Cuddy, Tom Flynn. Subs: J Killeen for Ring, Frank Keenan for Critchley
OFFALY: Christy King; T Donoghue, Mick Kennedy, Pat Fleury; Aidan Fogarty, Pat Delaney, Ger Coughlan; Joachim Kelly, Liam Currams; M Corrigan, Brendan Bermingham, Pat Kirwan; Pat Carroll, Padraig Horan, J Flaherty. Subs: S O’Meara for Kennedy, Danny Owens for Bermingham
REFEREE: Jimmy Denton (Wexford)