Five of those were sent packing after an ugly brawl in the 31st minute. Laois’ Kevin Meaney, Billy Sheehan and Peter O’Leary received their marching orders from referee Syl Doyle, along with Kildare duo, Johnny Doyle and Morgan O’Flaherty.
The melee began as referee Doyle delayed a throw-in and either missed or chose to ignore an exchange that left Kildare’s Ronan Sweeney on the floor. Hostilities escalated once play got under way and by the time the Wexford official finally restored order, only Kildare goalkeeper, Shane McCormack hadn’t converged on the Laois 20-metre line.
The atmosphere was nasty thereafter and it was no surprise when Laois full-back Denis Booth was red-carded in the 58th minute on the advice of the umpires for striking Dermot Earley while the All-Star midfielder was grounded. That gave Kildare a two-man advantage but it was 12 against 11 two minutes from the end of normal time when Pádraig O’Neill was sent off on a second yellow card.
Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney refused to accept that derby rivalries were responsible for the fighting and insisted he would never condone indiscipline in his teams.
He agreed once the first-half brawl had erupted, the referee had no option but to send players off, but reckoned more decisive action initially would have doused the rising passions.
“We’re not allowed comment on any decisions made but you would have felt if the incident just five seconds before the brawl had been taken care of, it would have been all wiped out,” he said.
“I don’t think Laois or Kildare went out looking for a fight, but that incident should have been taken care of, whatever way he saw fit. But to throw the ball up straight after two people were on the ground was a disaster, it went from there.
“You have to understand the referees need to do their business and there’s no place for that there. None. No matter what excuses I give, or Seán gives, there’s no excuse for that. It just shouldn’t happen. But I think it could have easily been stopped.”
Having been the better team for the majority of proceedings, one might have expected Kildare to exert a greater influence with their numerical advantage. Much to McGeeney’s chagrin, they didn’t make it count on the scoreboard, squandering a number of goal opportunities in the second half.
They were comfortable however against a Laois side that turned over possession regularly in the tackle and was toothless in attack, failing to manage even one score from play. Michael Tierney kicked their entire tally of eight points, seven from frees and one from a 45. Two of those frees gave Laois a perfect start but with the ageless Anthony Rainbow and David Whyte influential, Kildare scored five on the trot and were never in trouble thereafter.
A couple of more Tierney frees left it at 0-7 to 0-5 at the break but the impressive Rob Kelly and Whyte kept the scoreboard ticking over to ensure that Kildare advanced to the final four.
KILDARE: S McCormack; A Mac Lochlainn, G White, E Bolton; M O’Flaherty 0-1, B Flanagan, A Rainbow; D Flynn, D Earley 0-1; R Kelly, J Doyle 0-3(fs), D Whyte 0-2; R Kelly 0-4 (3fs), R Sweeney, K Cribben.
Subs: P O’Neill for Sweeney (50); K Brennan for Flynn (65); D Lyons for Rainbow (66).
LAOIS: C Gorman; J Scully, D Booth, P McMahon; D Strong, C Ryan, N Donoher; B Quigley, C Óg Greene; K Meaney, C Bergin, B Sheehan; MJ Tierney 0-8 (7fs, 1 45), D Lowry, C Coss.
Subs: P O’Leary for Lowry (27); C Begley for Bergin (ht); K Smith for Coss (54); D Murphy for Strong (54); D Miller for Greene (65)
Referee: S Doyle (Wexford).