This just about sums up the continued upward curve of the Kerry hurlers who went for broke against Laois in this Division 1B relegation play-off at the Austin Stack Park, and secured their Division 1B status for 2017 with a classy display of hurling that stunned the midlanders.
Laois did not help their cause when they lost their way and discipline midway through the second-half and ended up with 12 players on the pitch. They trailed by just six points when they lost wing forward Willie Dunphy to a second yellow in the 46th minute and then six minutes later sub Ross Ring was shown a straight red. Then with the contest decided, Laois were reduced to 12, when Willie Hyland got a straight red for an altercation with Patrick Kelly in the 69th minute.
Kerry boss Ciaran Carey was delighted with the win: “The most pleasing aspect, of course, is we have secured Division 1B hurling. It was nice to have control of our own destiny meaning by getting a result today. That is what we were looking for and in fairness, 2-27 is great clipping, 0-17 in the first-half, so it was a day to savour.”
Carey was glad Kerry’s two league wins did not become irrelevant against a Laois side that finished the league pointless: “What it did with the way the results went in 1A and 1B this year, was highlight the inequity of the league system in 1A and 1B. We were in an unfortunate position after winning two games, to be still in a play-off. In any league there should only be a play off between the bottom two if they are on the same points.
“Having said that, this was our biggest game of the year as far as I am concerned because it was crucial to maintain our status in 1B and they hurled with that in mind.”
The first-half of this relegation face-off was feast of attacking hurling with 26 scores and a couple of goal chances from both sides. Kerry were on top after a nervous opening with John Griffin controlling midfield and with the O’Leary brothers, Michael and Brendan, winning crucial ball in the half forward line, Laois were on the back foot. Kerry’s conversion rate in the opening half was just over 70% and Laois were dependent on Kerry errors and turnovers for scores. However, the O’Moore county received a boost in the 10th minute when a Kerry slip around midfield resulted in PJ Scully feeding Stephen Maher who blasted the ball to the Kerry net.
Kerry responded with new found intensity as they went on a 0-7 to 0-2 run, with points from Michael O’Leary, John Griffin, Brendan O’Leary (2) Shane Nolan (2) and John Egan, seeing Kerry move 0-12 to 1-5 clear, Willie Dunphy and Scully replaying for Laois.
Cha Dwyer then whipped the ball over the bar when it could have been worse, as Griffin, O’Leary and Nolan hurled like men inspired and Kerry fired over five more points to lead 0- 17 to 1-8 at half time. Shane Nolan claimed 0-7 in that opening half. Laois hit the ground running in the second-half with early points from Enda Rowland (free) and Willie Hyland, but Kerry struck for a crucial goal in the 40th minute, when Darren Dineen broke up a Laois attack and played the ball long, to Jack Goulding who set up John Egan for a super goal.
Once Laois lost two players, Kerry assumed complete control, with a succession of points before John Egan pounced for a goal in the 63rd minute, permitting Kerry to cruise to victory. For Laois, the gut check of a final relegation-promotion play off with Westmeath looms.
S Nolan (1-9, 6 frees), J Egan (1-6), M O’Leary (0-3), J Griffin, B O’Leary , M Boyle and J Goulding (0-2 each), C Harty (0-1).
P J Scully (0-7, 3 frees, 1 65), S Maher (1-1), C Dwyer (0-4), C Healy and W Hyland (0-2 each), E Rowland (free), P Purcell and W Dunphy (0-1 each)
A McCabe; B Murphy, P Kelly, K Carmody; J Diggins, D Dineen, T Murnane; J Griffin, D Collins; B O’Leary, M O’Leary, S Nolan; J Conway, M Boyle, J Egan.
J Goulding for J Conway (h/t), T Casey for D Collins (43), C Harty for B O’Leary (56), B Brosnan for J Diggins (64), J O’Connor for J Egan (64)
E Rowland; T Delaney , D Maher, C Healy; L Bergin, M Whelan, R Mullaney; P Purcell, C Stapleton; C Dwyer, S Maher, W Dunphy; J Lennon, W Hyland, P J Scully.
N Foyle for M Whelan (22), J Phelan for T Delaney (44), R King for J Lennon (48), B Reddin for l Bergin (66)
Sean Cleere (Kilkenny)