Prior to 1996, it had been almost three decades since the county had won a Leinster crown at the grade, but yesterday’s win was yet another success for an underage policy that seems to be getting more fruitful as the years go by.
Having sauntered through their semi-final with Dublin, Laois started as clear favourites against their neighbours who had surprisingly, if narrowly, eliminated Meath at the same stage.
Offaly proved stubborn opposition and the game was in injury-time before Laois could truly relax, safe in the knowledge that the trophy was theirs.
The ultimate difference in the teams was visible in a number of ways. Though Laois waxed and waned, they managed to sparkle far more during their periods of dominance than Offaly did in theirs.
Up front, they could always look to Sean O’Shea and Daithí Carroll in the corners, and Stephen O’Leary and Scott Conroy on the wings, confident in the knowledge they could do some damage.
Offaly were far more limited in front of goal, with dangerous corner-forward Ken Casey effectively chaperoned apart from his late second-half goal.
Laois proved worthy of the favourites’ tag from the off too as, within the first two minutes, they were a goal to the good. The Heath’s Carroll, who had pilfered 2-4 against the Dubs, found the net from the penalty spot after Diarmuid Horan had pulled Ciaran Delaney down inside the area.
Four minutes later, Horan dropped a pick-up into the arms of Delaney who, in turn, set O’Shea up for a simple tap over the bar. Dominant in every area of the pitch already, Laois didn’t need such gifts and they were 1-3 to the good before Offaly found the target.
The underdogs had gradually begun to develop a foothold in the game by the time full-forward Ciaran Flannery sent over their first point. Captain and centre-back Richard Dalton on followed his example a minute later.
Laois rallied with a trio of their own points, two coming from the boot of the impressive O’Leary. Under pressure and seemingly outgunned up front, Offaly kept chipping away and another brace of one-pointers left them trailing by 1-5 to 0-4 at the interval.
Some minor surgery at half-time saw Offaly enjoy their best period in the third quarter. Ross Brady, suspended for the win over Meath, came into midfield, allowing Rory Connor float about at centre-forward and the switch saw Offaly grab a hold of the midfield battle for a spell.
By the 40th minute, they were still four points behind but that gap could and should have been almost obliterated by another half-time sub, James Guinan, who shot wide straight in front of the goal from only six yards out.
Over the next ten minutes, points from O’Shea and Carroll stretched the lead to a comfortable 1-9 to 0-6.
The game degenerated into something of a muddle for a spell, with both sides missing passes and points galore.
Offaly never lay down and they grabbed a late lifeline with eight minutes to go with a goal from Casey whose chance was laid on a plate by Conor Mahon’s sublime handpass over full-back Mark Delaney’s head.
Laois rattled off three more points before the last act, but it was only with the second of them, from sub Brian Brennan a minute into injury-time, that the game was finally made safe.
Andy Shortall’s men retained their title but a more accomplished display will be needed if they are to claim a fourth All-Ireland title in ten years.
OFFALY: D Bracken; K Higgins, D Larkin, D Horan; J Knight (0-1), R Dalton (0-1), G Grehan; C Mahon, R Connor; N Darby, P Duffy, J Gorman; W Mulhall (0-2), C Flannery (0-1), K Casey (1-1, 1f).
Subs: J Guinan for Flannery 30, R Brady (0-1) for Gorman 30, P Deehan for Darby 48, B Kelly for Duffy 58, G Treacy for Grehan 59.
LAOIS: D Maher; P Fleming, M Delaney, K Smith; R Ryan, B Meredith, S Shortall; S O’Neill, C Og Green; S O’Leary (0-3), J Fennell (0-1), S Conroy (0-2); S O’Shea (0-3), C Delaney (0-1), D Carroll (1-1, 1p)
Subs: B Brennan (0-1) for O’Shea 49.
Referee: C O’Reilly (Meath).