Bench press crucial as Laois spread the load

Wexford’s Diarmuid O’Keeffe with his PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month award for June at PwC, Spencer Dock. Picture: Sam Barnes.

Whatever the turn of events against Tipperary, Laois will still fill a few seconds when the All-Ireland hurling championship comes to a halt next month and the TV montage used to sum it all up is assembled out in Montrose.

You know the thing: sweeping shots of Croke Park, beautifully filmed slow-motion sequences, breathtaking scores and the odd screaming fan, all of it set to the appropriate musical number.

Keep an eye out for Aaron Dunphy when it airs.

It was the Borris-Kilcotton forward who skipped through the Westmeath defence midway through the first half of the Joe McDonagh Cup final before launching an exocet that found the top left-hand corner of the net.

James Carr’s wonder goal for Mayo against Galway last weekend has clocked up a tad more views online — over eight million and counting — but Dunphy’s is not dissimilar and every bit as impressive. It deserves greater attention than it earned at the time when all eyes were on the concurrent Munster final.

Seven days later and he was claiming a less spectacular goal but one of greater import. A mere tap-in, Willie Dunphy had done all the hard work in rescuing a loose ball from spilling over the end line and making a beeline for Alan Nolan in the Dublin nets.

“I just snuck in there,” said Aaron of a score that would prove crucial in getting Laois over the line in the preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final.

“I knew Willie was going to shoot from there. He couldn’t really cross it from where he was. I just got in there and hoped for the best and that’s all you can do.”

Dunphy claimed another two points from play in O’Moore Park and that contribution is all the more notable for the fact that he was a substitute for the first two Joe McDonagh games, against Offaly and Antrim, before injury created the opening that he has grabbed with such conviction.

Laois have always produced good hurlers, the problem being that there were never enough of them. Eddie Brennan has gone about addressing that in his first year in charge with auditions given to plenty of players through the league and trust has been placed in the wider group this summer.

Laois have only used 24 players in their six games, compared to Tipperary who have given game time to 25 across just four, but every one of them have been handed a start at some point and only five have started all four games. Compare that with Tipp who have designated 10ten of their faces to be irreplaceable.

“That’s what we’ve been harping on all year,” said Laois selector Niall Corcoran after the surprise defeat of Dublin last Sunday. “In every game we’ve used five (subs). That’s the strength in depth of the panel and every lad knows he could be called upon at any stage.”

Impact isn’t restricted to just points and goals but even that simple metric gives a good indication as to just how intrinsic the greater squad has been to Laois as they face into the county’s first All-Ireland quarter-final since the loss to Galway in 1979.

It was a substitute, Stephen Bergin, who scored the clinching goal against Offaly with a minute to go in their first McDonagh game. Conor Phelan was another to come off the bench and he managed 1-1 on a day when four points separated the rivals. That set a tone.

Fast forward to the second-tier final against Westmeath two weekends ago and Bergin was claiming another goal, this time whilst on the field briefly as a blood sub. All told, the bench contributed 1-5 that day and their impact has been facilitated by Brennan’s willingness to make changes long before the third quarter is over.

What that does is demonstrate belief and it’s all the more remarkable given this is a county with a small enough pick — just eight senior clubs — and the fact that Brennan was met with over 20 refusals when he went canvassing for players in the first few months of his reign.

But Dunphy, for one, didn’t need any sales pitch.

“I didn’t hesitate. As soon as Eddie Brennan rings you say yeah. I can understand after last year why some people might not want to commit. That’s their own decision. Lads go travelling, they have work or whatever. I wouldn’t hold it against anyone but I was always ready to go.”

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