Zane Keenan takes inspiration from days of ‘72

“It is 43 years now and God knows we’ve waited long enough,” says Frank Keenan, his tone suggesting a wearing thin of patience.

Zane Keenan takes inspiration from days of ‘72

The Camross native will take his place in the main stand of O’Moore Park tomorrow afternoon, his son, Zane, lining out for the Laois hurlers in their Leinster quarter-final with neighbours Offaly.

The Faithful County had 16-points to spare when the counties last clashed in 2008.

Indeed, Offaly have enjoyed the upper hand in their last 15 championship meetings since that day in 1972.

Keenan, right half-forward on that afternoon, recalls a crowd of little more than 2,000 filing into O’Moore Park for their Leinster quarter-final contest.

Laois didn’t figure on hurling’s map and Offaly were only starting out on the journey that would deliver a first Leinster crown eight years later.

Adding to the lack of home expectation was Laois’ indifferent first round showing in a 3-9 to 1-9 win over Wicklow.

“Offaly came with a fine bunch of hurlers, they had Damien Martin in goals, Pádraig Horan, Johnny Flaherty and Barney Moylan,” Keenan reminisces.

Included in the visitor’s starting line-up was a young Joe McKenna.

The 1972 defeat to Laois, in which he was held scoreless by Mick Mahon, marked his last outing in the Offaly shirt.

The following summer he’d climb the steps of the Hogan Stand in the green of Limerick having transferred to South Liberties.

“They had fine hurlers back then, but we had a great bunch that all came together, the likes of Johnny Carroll, Pat Mahon, Billy Delaney, Tim Cuddy, Eugene Moore, Paddy Dowling and Jimmy Lyons. All these lads had been on the go since 1966/67 whereas I came in in 1969.”

A mention too for half-back Matthew Ryan, father to Munster rugby player Donnacha, who threw his lot in with the midlanders while working in Clonaslee.

“They would have been seen as strong favourites that day in ‘72. Offaly would always have been seen as favourites every time they played Laois. We felt we could win it, though. It was drilled into us that we were as good, if not better than Offaly.”

That belief was laid bare in the opening five minutes, two Ger Cuddy goals carving out a 2-4 to 0-1 lead.

Offaly absorbed the home outfit’s spell of dominance and completed the overtaking movement turning the bend for home.

Cuddy struck his third goal three minutes from time to level matters at 4-6 to 3-9.

Disaster for Laois: The goal was disallowed. From the ensuing puck-out, Mick Mahon picked out George Conroy and the Clonad substitute rattled the opposition net. Ballyfin’s George Lanham landed the winning score and a famous victory was secured, 4-7 to 3-9.

“Our goalkeeper Johnny Carroll made a couple of terrific saves. I was free-taker and everything went right for myself. We got the bounce of the ball that day. We gave a great performance, it was a great day for Laois hurling.

“We met Kilkenny in the semi-final and were confident we could take them. The one and only Eddie Keher was held scoreless until the final five or six minutes. He beat us himself in the closing stages when he scored 1-3.”

Offaly and Laois again locked horns in ‘73, the contest ending all square, 3-10 apiece. Offaly won the replay by 5-6 to 3-10 and they’ve since to emerge second best.

“There have been a couple of near-misses, but we’re still looking for that next win.

“It was unfortunate what happened last week with Cheddar [Plunkett]. Thankfully he is back with the team now and you never know it could act as a tonic for the lads tomorrow.”

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