It was a drawn game at that stage and possession just inside Galway’s half would have put Laois in a promising position from which to embrace that historic victory.
Maher fumbled the ball though, Galway sub Paul Killeen nipped in to steal possession and released a sidewinder that travelled three-quarters of the pitch before splitting the Laois posts.
About 30 seconds later, another Laois U21 player, Charles Dwyer, had a simple chance to level the game, but sliced his shot wide.
In a game of a thousand angles and dimensions yesterday, they were crucial errors that one could argue stood between the sides a couple of minutes later at full-time.
Laois did still have one last-gasp opportunity to rescue the game and claim a victory that looked to be heading their way after such a bright start that put them six points clear at half-time.
They were awarded a free three minutes into injury-time and with two points between them the permutations were simple, it was score or bust.
But Galway packed their goal-line with seven maroon bodies and the white clad goalkeeper and somehow escaped with the ball. It was ironic that when that ruck of bodies broke up, Joe Canning emerged clutching the ball and punched the air when referee Cathal McAllister blew for full-time.
Ironic because Canning had one of his off days, by his lofty standards. He scored just two points and wasn’t a key figure in general play as he often is.
It would be a compliment to say that Galway were unconvincing. Around the bars in Galway last night, more in depth post-mortems surely took place which won’t have drawn many positive conclusions.
For the second year in a row, Galway escaped Laois’ clutches in a Leinster championship game at O’Moore Park. Last year’s was a lower scoring encounter and Galway were slightly more convincing in the end.
The best compliment one can pay to Laois is that they would have deserved to win this time — they wouldn’t have stolen it.
Their hurling in the first half was full of energy and enthusiasm and it was clever. It looked like being the same old story when they leaked 1-3 in the first nine minutes, that included a terribly scrappy Jonathan Glynn goal from close range.
But they were back level by the 17th minute as they lofted ball after ball upon the stiff breeze over Galway’s bar.
It was no coincidence that defenders Brian Stapleton, Joe Fitzpatrick and Tom Delaney all got on the score sheet. The wind was that advantageous that they could strike balls over from their own half.
Twice Laois came with six-point bursts and Galway had no answers. With 25 minutes on the clock, Laois led 0-12 to 1-4 and they were 0-16 to 1-7 up at half-time.
Truly, this was the stuff of hurling legend. If not nationally, then certainly around Laois where they’ve been waiting a long time for such a breakthrough.
Afterwards, Anthony Cunningham spoke of the volume of character in his Galway team that they pulled victory out of the bag.
Certainly, they were improved after the break and were ably led by Conor Cooney in the half-forward line. He finished with seven points, four of those were from open play.
But it wasn’t terribly convincing and ahead of a Leinster semi-final with Kilkenny or Offaly, few will be parting with wads of their hard earned to place on the Tribesmen.
Still, they took the best Laois could throw at them — at one stage Charles Dwyer raised the roof in the main stand with a converted sideline — and overcome it.
There was a sense of inevitability about proceedings when Cooney shot back-to-back points followed by a Padraig Brehony effort.
And with Laois defending for their lives in the closing quarter of an hour or so, Galway picked off six points in a row themselves without any reply.
There were little nuggets of hope for Laois, however, like a Willie Hyland point and another from Ross King. The scores gave them hope that they hadn’t thrown away what was maybe their best chance to claim a championship scalp in modern memory.
But when it came down to it, to that game of inches, they were just found wanting. They were inches away and Galway live to fight another day.
Scorers for Galway: C Cooney 0-7, (3f), J Glynn 1-0, N Burke, J Flynn, J Canning, C Mannion and P Brehony 0-2 each, J Coen, David Burke, D Collins, P Killeen and I Tannian 0-1 each.
Scorers for Laois: N Foyle, C Dwyer (1 sl), T Fitzgerald, S Maher (3f) and W Hyland 0-3 each, Joe Fitzpatrick and T Delaney 0-2 each, B Stapleton, J Walsh, J Campion and R King 0-1 each.
Subs for Galway: T Haran for Harte (7-9, blood), D Hayes for David Burke (48), J Flynn for Mannion (51), P Killeen for Harte (64), D Glennon for Glynn (70).
Subs for Laois: J Purcell for Foyle (56), P Whelan for Walsh (58), J Brophy for Fitzgerald (59), R King for J Campion (63).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).
GALWAY: C Callanan; D Collins, R Burke, F Moore; A Harte, I Tannian, Daithi Burke; J Coen, P Brehony; David Burke, N Burke, C Cooney; C Mannion, J Glynn, J Canning. LAOIS: E Reilly; JA Delaney, B Campion, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, T Delaney; J Walsh, J Campion; S Maher, T Fitzgerald, D Palmer; N Foyle, W Hyland, C Dwyer.
Two injury-time Galway points from Cathal Mannion and Iarla Tannian ultimately decided this contest. Both were great scores, Mannion’s from the right wing, Tannian from his own half.
Few Laois fans have ever seen their team perform so well as in the first half. Against quality opposition, they picked off outrageous long-range points. Several of them came from more than 80 metres out. The wind helped but there is also real talent in this Laois team.
Galway’s insipid performance was a near carbon copy of a year ago. That was a Leinster semi-final but they struggled in equal measure. In both games, they trailed the underdogs at half-time and relied on late scores to escape.
Laois’s defence was superb, aided by the decision to drop extra bodies back. But Galway did do enough for victory and Conor Cooney did most to make that happen.
Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett reverted to the defensive style used against better teams in the Allianz League. It worked well with Dwayne Palmer starting as sweeper. They’d gone 15 against 15 a week earlier when playing Antrim but had to accept their limitations this time. Anthony Cunningham will wonder why his side were so flat so long.
Cathal McAllister didn’t have too flash too many cards. A game played in good spirits.
Galway face a Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny or Offaly on June 22. Laois face a round 1 qualifier, details have yet to be confirmed.