Conversely, the way Limerick struggled to win a game in which they trailed all the way up the last 10 minutes poses serious questions about their ability to advance.
Justin McCarthy acknowledged as much: “They are a good team – they showed that in the Leinster championship,” he said. “We have two wins and that will stand to us going into the next game. We have a few things to rectify. That’s the reality.”
Laois boss Niall Rigney was bursting with pride, balancing his disappointment over a defeat he agreed was due to a lack of experience, with the delight in seeing a team whose average age is 22 out-hurl the favourites for most of the contest.
One particular comment best summed up his reaction: “We are a small team, but our hearts are bigger than our size. And that’s a great thing to have.”
Laois not so much shocked Limerick with a 1-5 scoring burst inside the opening six minutes, but virtually dictated play all the way until falling behind to an Andrew O’Shaughnessy free in the 64th minute. On the night, that was their real achievement, displaying great skill in the rain and backing it up with admirable effort all over the field. Watching from the sideline with a broken finger, Limerick’s star forward Niall Moran found it doubly frustrating: “We felt that if we weren’t 100% tuned in we were going to be under pressure,” he stated. “And, it was evident maybe from the first 10 minutes that we weren’t.”
Between the ninth and 15th minutes Limerick produced four points which helped them lift the siege, but it proved to be no more than token resistance in the face of relentless Laois endeavour, spearheaded by wing-forward Willie Hyland who almost totally outplayed Seamus Hickey and Tipp-born John Brophy in the right corner.
Admitting that they got ‘one hell of a fright,’ Justin McCarthy readily admitted that their own performance was dictated by how well Laois played.
“They had all the good things you need. Their hurling was superb, their teamwork as well. They weren’t giving us our way, basically. It was a case that we had to dig in and not give ground. We didn’t panic, which was the main thing. I always felt we were going to win.”
Rigney explained how they set about their task, how ‘they took the game’ to Limerick rather than waiting for them to set the pace.
“We worked very hard on closing them down – not the man in possession, but the man in support. That was our plan – to curtail them.”
You would have to say that it almost worked to perfection, the only real negative being a failure to make the most of their scoring chances in the first half – when Rigney believed they should have been six points in front at half-time rather than a mere three (1-9 to 0-9).
That was largely due to a steady improvement in defence, the success of Gavin O’Mahony in winning ball around midfield and promising play in attack from James Ryan in particular on the left wing, Andrew O’Shaughnessy inside him and, on the few times he got possession, full-forward Paudie McNamara.
Goalkeeper Brian Murray, who believes the team has yet play to its potential, agreed it was a struggle to get back into contention. “We found it fierce tough coming from behind, to be honest.’ he said.
Limerick finally coming to within a point in the 49th minute. And after conceding a score from a Hyland free, it took them a further 10 minutes before O’Shaughnessy levelled scores for the first time – by which stage the addition of James O’Brien and David Breen was boosting the attack. Notably, however, Limerick wasted three good chances of scores – the worst being a goal attempt from McNamara – before an O’Shaughnessy point had them ahead.
After that score they were not going to be denied, but it offers them no guarantee of success next week. “People will probably be writing us off again,” said Moran. “Dublin are now well and truly favourites. We’ll have it all to do to get over them.’
Scorers for Limerick: A. O’Shaughnessy 0-7 (0-5 frees); G. O’Mahony (0-1 free) and P. Browne 0-3 each; P. McNamara and J. O’Brien 0-2 each; J. Ryan, D. Breen and D. Ryan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Laois: W. Hyland 0-8 (0-5 frees); E. Costelloe 1-2; J. Brophy 0-2; T. Fitzgerald and E. Jackman 0-1 each.
Subs for Limerick: D. Moloney for Condon (29); J. O’Brien for M. O’Brien (50); D. Breen for Sheehan (53); D. Ryan for Browne (68).
Subs for Laois: J. Young for Holohan (52); B. Dunne for Rowney (62); D. Peacock for Costelloe (68).
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).