Galway 2-17 Laois 1-13
Galway were given a huge fright by an unconsidered Laois side before falling over the line to book their place in the Leinster SHC final at O’Moore Park.
The verdict was in doubt right up to the last five minutes as Laois tore into last year’s provincial champions, combining passion and aggression with some wonderful hurling.
They played with a strong wind in the first half and quickly went into a 0-4 to 0-0 lead. Although Galway gradually settled down and got themselves back into the tie – largely thanks to Joe Canning – it was the home supporters that were on their feet at half time as their crew went in leading by a point, 0-8 to 0-7.
If anything, their second half effort was even better, given the strength of the wind. Infused with confidence by that opening period though, they kept in touch and then hit the front when Tommy Fitzgerald goaled in the 57th minute.
Crucially though, Davy Glennon responded in kind within 60 seconds, after Joe Canning’s shot was saved by Eoin Reilly.
Canning stretched the margin to three but undeterred, Laois came back with points from the magnificent Matthe Whelan and Zane Keenan to leave just one between them again.
Aonghus Callanan’s 64th minute goal finally ended the brave Laois resistance though but they will look forward to the qualifiers with plenty of confidence.
Laois set up with Cahir Healy as a sweeper and attempted to flood the middle third. With the wind at their backs, they shot from distance and not one of their opening four points – from Stephen Maher, man of the match Matthew Whelan, Zane Keenan and Willie Hyland – came from inside 60m.
Canning was central to easing Galway’s nerves, contributing the westerners’ first five points, including four in-a-row.
Laois didn’t wilt though and Joe Fitzpatrick and Whelan launched scores from 80m and 70m respectively to ensure that the hosts went in at the interval in front.
They went in to a rapturous standing ovation and responded to the support.
Although half time substitute, James Regan brought the sides level within seconds, and Galway gradually got ahead thanks to further scores from Damien Hayes and Canning, the Tribesmen were clearly knocked out of their stride by Laois’ near-manic, but clearly controlled, aggression and desire.
The roof almost lifted off the covered stand when Tommy Fitzgerald arrived on the shoulder of Neil Foyle to take a pass and send the net rippling.
But Glennon had too much time to slot the rebound from Reilly’s save to the net, seconds later, Canning once more having shown tremendous strength and leadership to win possession initially.
Yet it was still only a one-point game when Callanan won an aerial battle and made ground before unleashing a powerful shot.
Reilly got his body behind it but the sliotar squirmed over the line.
Galway found some gaps in that closing period as Laois pushed forward and Canning brought his tally to 11 points with three scores to finally give Anthony Cunningham’s side some breathing space.
Scorers – Galway: J Canning 0-11(7fs); D Glennon, A Callanan 1-0 each; D Burke, D Hayes 0-2 each; N Burke, J Regan 0-1
Laois: M Whelan 0-5(4fs); Z Keenan 0-3; T Fitzgerald 1-0; S Maher 0-2(1f); J Fitzpatrick, W Hyland, B Dunne 0-1 each
Galway: J Skehill; F Moore, K Hines, S Kavanagh; A Harte, J Coen, J Cooney; I Tannian, A Smith; D Burke, N Burke, C Donnellan; D Glennon, C Cooney, J Canning. Subs: D Hayes for Donnellan (29); J Regan for Smith (ht); A Callanan for N Burke (53); J Grealish for D Burke (67)
Laois: E Reilly; B Stapleton, D Maher, JA Delaney; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, G Burke; B Dunne, J Walsh; W Hyland, Z Keenan, S Maher; J Brophy, T Fitzgerald, C Healy. Subs: B Duggan for Whelan (27-29); C Dunne for Burke (46); N Foyle for Brophy (49)