Willie Hyland in tribute to Seamus Plunkett’s key role

The second James Owens blew the final whistle on Laois’ stunning nine-point defeat of Offaly in Sunday’s Leinster quarter-final, man of the match Willie Hyland made a beeline towards his manager.

Willie Hyland in tribute to Seamus Plunkett’s key role

The duo shared an intensely personal moment as they hugged each other fiercely, Hyland desperate to thank Seamus Plunkett for giving him his best day in a decade of Laois hurling. And if he was in any doubt following the outcry that followed his short period as former Laois manager, to let him know how much he was loved and respected.

Plunkett would have been proud of the big man’s leadership. Hyland drove over seven points from play in a consummate individual performance, within a fabulous team display.

His ball-winning ability in the half-forward line and ability to score from distance has been a key element of the sweeper system deployed by Plunkett since taking over from Teddy McCarthy less than three years ago.

The improvement has been remarkable since and Hyland was quick to turn the conversation to the Portlaoise clubman.

“I’m just ecstatic to be honest with you” enthused Hyland. “It’s my 10th year hurling senior with Laois. I’ve been waiting for a day like today for that 10 years. I’m just absolutely thrilled to be honest with you.

“I have to say a special word for ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett. Three years ago he came in and we were on our knees. I’m just delighted for him.

“It was a huge boost (when he came back). Today wouldn’t be right if ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett wasn’t on the line, you know.” With that, an emotional Hyland could speak no more, only stare at his inquisitors, his eyes welling up.

He means that much?

A nod and then ‘Yeah.’ Like Plunkett, he dismissed the notion that the events of the previous fortnight had served as added motivation.

“It’s a local derby, it’s Offaly-Laois. You don’t need a whole pile to get you going. With the delay in the game, we were just mad to get out on the field and when we did get out there, we just expressed ourselves.

“We turned a four-point deficit into a four-point lead and that was a very crucial part of the game. Maybe if Offaly had tagged on another couple of points to lead by six or seven points it would have been a challenge in the second half against the wind.

“We haven’t hurled particularly well up to this game. The crowd gave us energy. It was an amazing day. It was a day I’ve been waiting for for a long time.” There was a celebratory feel to the occasion but Hyland allayed any fears that Laois would lose focus on the impending semi-final with Galway.

Given where Laois have come from, they were entitled to revel in a first Championship victory over Offaly in 43 years. But having lost by seven points to the Tribesmen in 2013 and just fallen short by two last season, they would be champing at the bit for another crack at them, Hyland promised.

“We’ll enjoy it for what it is. We played Galway the last two years and ran them very close. We want to beat them the next day in the semi-final and that would be great for the county as well. We’ll enjoy this but (this week) it will be focussing on Galway.”

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