By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Laois 0-29 Offaly 0-20
Laois put a difficult fortnight behind them in the most definitive fashion possible, blitzing old rivals Offaly in the final 45 minutes to record their first championship victory over them in 43 years.
Willie Hyland and Cha Dwyer were monumental contributors for the victors, scoring 12 points between them from play as the home side scored a remarkable 29 in total.
The full-back line deserves plaudits too for the manner in which they completely snuffed out the threat of Shane Dooley, Brian Carroll and Joe Bergin.
In truth though, this was the consummate team performance, based on a punishing workrate, patience and the perfect execution of a well-devised game-plan.
The events in the build-up, when manager, Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett resigned and then returned was bound to have some impact on Laois and they were clearly highly motivated from the outset, thundering into the early challenges with serious intent.
They had Dwane Palmer operating as a sweeper and Zane Keenan augmenting the midfield duo, leaving Stephen Maher as a one-man full-forward line.
Willie Hyland got them into an early lead but while they were winning plenty of possession, their delivery wasn’t precise enough at times. Having said that, their structure is reliant on shooting from distance. Wides and aimless looking deliveries are inevitable. This is where the patience told.
Offaly were a little more economic and a couple of Shane Dooley frees, followed by their first score from play by Joe Bergin gave them an early advantage.
Though Zane Keenan brought the teams level for the third time, the flow was evident and a brace of points inside 30 seconds from Brian Carroll helped push Offaly three ahead. When Dan Currams shot his second point in the 24th minute, the margin was four.
That ‘flow’ turned significantly and permanently the other way from that juncture, however. The change was imperceptible at first as Zane Keenan slotted a couple of important frees to keep Laois in touch.
Before long though, they were ahead as they went into overdrive, hitting a phase of play where it seemed like nothing could go wrong.
Goalkeeper, E oin Reilly landed a free from between his own 21 and 45 – around 105m out – while Hyland and Palmer landed monster scores as well. Suddenly it was 0-14 to 0-10.
You wondered if half time would break the Laois momentum but after Dooley slotted an early free, Laois hit back with points from the industrious Paddy Purcell, Keenan and Dwyer.
The tactic of committing more forward for Reilly’s long puckouts paid dividends on countless occasions and as the half wore on, Laois began to play with a swagger, dominating the skies and the ground.
Emmet Nolan, David King and Currams did bring the margin back down to five in the 54th minute but after James Dempsey saved from Maher, Hyland slotted and Keenan pointed from a 60m sideline to make it seven once more.
There was confusion in the 59th minute when James Owens signalled a penalty, believing that Cahir Healy hand handled the sliotar on the ground when he had clearly used his hurley. His umpires corrected him and in the end, the call hurt Offaly as the clearance had reached and Offaly forward 10m out from the Laois goal.
It was exhibition stuff in the final 10 minutes as Laois continued to outwork their opponents, and added an array of flicks and brilliant finishing to their repertoire.
Galway have been warned.
Laois: Z Keenan 0-11(7fs, 1 65, 1 sideline); W Hyland 0-7; C Dwyer 0-5; P Purcell, S Maher 0-2 each; E Reilly(f), D Palmer 0-1 each
Offaly: S Dooley 0-10 (9fs, 1 65); D Currams 0-4; B Carroll 0-3; J Bergin, K Kiely, E Nolan, D King 0-1 each
Laois: E Reilly, M Whelan, B Stapleton, C Healy, J Fitzpatrick, J A Delaney, T Delaney, J Campion, P Purcell, Z Keenan, T Fitzgerald, W Hyland, D Palmer, S Maher, C Dwyer. Subs: P Whelan for Purcell (64), J Walsh for Palmer (70), PJ Scully for Maher (70+1), B Conroy for Fitzgerald (70+2)
Offaly: J Dempsey, D King, D Shortt, N Wynne, C Parlon, C Egan, P Camon, S Ryan, E Nolan, P Murphy, J Mulrooney, D Currams, S Dooley, B Carroll, J Bergin. Subs: K Kiely for Ryan (ht), E Murphy for Parlon (41), S Cleary for Mulrooney (44), S Wynne for King (61)
Referee: J Owens (Wexford)