Ryan’s men advance to a second round showdown against Antrim in the All-Ireland qualifiers next weekend in Casement Park after this dramatic victory at Dr Cullen Park.
And it was U21 player Denis Murphy who fired over the winning point in the dying seconds after the O’Moore County appeared to have snatched a draw with a late surge.
“We had five U21 lads out there and they made a big contribution for us,” said Ryan, whose U21 side lost to Wexford by four points in a Leinster semi-final on Wednesday night.
“For them to recover that quickly (was very surprising) and they made a huge difference. The U21 lads probably played better than they ever did with us. The lads could have been looking forward to a Leinster U21 final against Dublin, but at least they’ll have one more game in the qualifiers, and that’s great.”
After leading 1-10 to 1-5 at half-time, Carlow, for whom corner-forward Paudie Kehoe top-scored with 11 points, seemed to be in the driving seat when they went 1-13 to 1-7 ahead on 46 minutes.
But then Laois stormed back. Corner-forward John Purcell intercepted a short puck-out and blasted to the net on 51 minutes. Full-forward Tommy Fitzgerald followed with another Laois goal just three minutes later, and the visitors then edged 3-12 to 1-17 ahead with just a minute left. In a dramatic finish, Craig Doyle levelled for the hosts before Murphy proved the match-winning hero.
Ryan refused to panic in those closing stages. He claimed: “Even after the two goals went in, I was reasonably hopeful. I could see the body language of the lads was very good. Their chests were out, their shoulders were up, and there were no heads hanging. I kept shouting to our half-forwards to win the puck-outs, and they responded very well. And even when Laois went a point up near the end, I knew we wouldn’t give in. Now we’ve got Antrim, and we know that’s not going to be easy. They will take a lot of heart from their performance against Offaly. But we’ll be focusing on our own game rather than paying too much attention to the opposition.”
Laois boss Niall Rigney accepted his side were beaten by the better team.
He said: “They outfought us, and they were the hungrier team. We were happy with our performance against Dublin (Leinster Championship), but we were very flat tonight. I’ve said before that doing well in the qualifiers is all about having the focus right. We left ourselves with too much to do in the second half, and we also hit a few wides from a number of scoreable frees.”
Scorers for Carlow: P Kehoe (0-11, 8f, 1 ‘65), D Murphy (1-4), C Doyle 0-3, E Nolan 0-1.
Scorers for Laois: T Fitzgerald, J Purcell 1-1 each, E Costelloe 1-0, J Walsh, W Hyland (1f) 0-3 each, J Fitzpatrick, Z Keenan (1f, 1 ‘65’) 0-2 each.
Subs for Carlow: Alan McDonald for HP O’Byrne (41), D Miley for Hickey (51), Eddie Byrne for Gaule (60), R Foley for Brennan (66).
Subs for Laois: W Hyland for Dollard (24), J Rowney for Brophy (24), C Dunne for Delaney (45), N Foyle for Keenan (50).