The Laois hurlers are out of the All-Ireland championship for 2021 – but only after a thoroughly entertaining affair with Waterford this afternoon.
Seamas ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett’s men defied the odds against the 2020 defeated All-Ireland finalists and the game was still in the mix in the third minute of added time.
But it wasn’t to be – and we will take a more detailed look into the game below:
1 – Man of the match – James Keyes
Just like last week, there are plenty of contenders here. Full back Sean Downey was rock solid again while Podge Delaney’s return to the half back line has been a huge plus.
Paddy Purcell was unplayable for ten minutes in the first half when he reeled off four points and then scored a brilliant goal while PJ Scully was almost flawless from frees.
But we’ve gone for a man who was thrust into the heat of battle having not played a whole lot this year – Colt-Shanahoe’s James Keyes.
Injuries to Ryan Mullaney and Lee Cleere forced Laois to massively reshuffle their team and Keyes came in at midfield where he excelled. Popped up all over the field, scored a great point and was very efficient in his use of the ball too.
2 – Return of Laois, Laois, Laois
The attendance in Nowlan Park was set at 3,500 and while it didn’t sell out, you would certainly notice the difference.
In the second half when Laois came roaring back, the famous Laois, Laois, Laois chant made an appearance twice. It was great to hear and hopefully we’ll hear more of it from now on.
3 – The conditions
It was and still is absolutely roasting! Temperatures touched 28 degrees and possibly even higher during the game today.
How the players managed to put on the performance that they did in that heat was nothing short of incredible. For the lads that played the 70 plus minutes, they’ll require some serious recovery work!
4 – Laois improvement in accuracy
In the first five games of the season, Laois’s poor accuracy in front of goals has been one of our talking points.
They cut that out against Antrim and did the same here today – firing just seven wides in comparison to Waterford’s 18. If Laois can consistently keep the wides to a minimum, it will certainly help them in trying to bridge the gap to the stronger teams.
5 – Bizarre goal and amazing block
Donnchadh Hartnett was involved in two remarkable incidents in the first half.
In the 14th minute, Waterford worked the ball up the wing and the attack ended with Kevin Moran mis-hitting a shot.
That effort was blocked by Donnchadh Hartnett but keeper Enda Rowland had already dived and the ball deflected the opposite direction and trickled into the net.
Waterford could have killed the game altogether after 25 minutes when Kevin Moran got in and popped the ball across the square to Stephen Bennett.
Keeper Rowland had come out to close Moran down and was now stranded by corner back Hartnett came out of nowhere to make a goal-saving block. It truly was an amazing piece of defending.
6 – The game-changing moment
After 52 minutes, Waterford thought they had a goal through Dessie Hutchinson but the referee brought back play for a throw ball.
From the resulting free, Rowland drove the ball into the square where Cha Dwyer caught it and laid it off to Ciaran Comerford who rattled the net – instead of being six points down, Laois now led for the first time – 2-17 to 1-19.
It set us up for a gripping last quarter too.
7 – A new style that looks here to say
Last week saw a much more attacking style against Antrim and there were fears that, against a tougher opponent, Laois would go back to their old defensive style.
But to their credit, they were brave and were rewarded for that bravery by pushing Waterford to their limit.
8 – What happens next
The season will conclude next week when Laois face Westmeath in the Division 1 relegation playoff.
Westmeath defeated Kerry today in the Joe McDonagh Cup final so Laois will have to be wary of the bounce that will give them.