Laois chiselled out a hard-earned but merited victory over Carlow to book their place in the Leinster Final for the first time in 11 years.
While the result was in doubt right to the end, John Sugrue’s men were in front the whole way and had just that little bit more nous in attack.
This was an arm wrestle throughout, Carlow setting up in their now customary holding pattern, with John Murphy sitting in a sweeping role and their entire half-forward line dropping deep when Laois were in possession.
There were long sequences of play when Laois had possession but Carlow were always willing to allow them crab across the field outside the 45, looking to invite them on and force turnovers so they could use the pace of Seán Murphy, Seán Gannon and Jordan Morrissey on the counter-attack.
Morrissey was magnificent, causing problems throughout for Damien O’Connor, who pulled him back twice inside the opening five minutes.
Meanwhile, Mark Timmons somehow escaped a black card when dragging Morrissey to the ground as the Éire Óg man bore down on Graham Brody’s goal.
They were isolated enough incidents of progress up front for Carlow however, as they failed in particular to get Murphy in the right positions often enough and the lightning quick midfielder found himself losing the ball on the rare occasion he did try to get forward.
What was notable was Laois’s ability to match this huge Carlow side physically, and while they funnelled players back themselves, they were able to fashion scoring chances more easily in the first half especially.
John Sugrue’s crew led by 0-6 to 0-3 at half time and deserved that, although had Diarmuid Walshe showed a little more composure just before the interval and scored a goal instead of over-playing the ball and losing it, it might have been a different story.
And though Laois created 17 scoring chance in comparison to Carlow’s 13, it was that they scored eight as against three to their opponents’ three that was significant, particularly when Carlow had the better goal chances and got nothing from them.
Even in the 66th minute, Ciaran Moran and Darragh Foley brilliantly carved out an opportunity. Had Shane Redmond found the net to put Carlow a point in front, it would have been a contender for goal of the season for the quality of the build-up play, but the full-back dwelt too long and was dispossessed.
Laois went into an early two-point lead thanks to Ross Munnelly – the only survivor from Laois’s last provincial title success in 2003 – and Donie Kingston.
Diarmuid Walshe got Wicklow off the mark but the margin was four when Sean Fennell, Finbarr Crowley and Munnelly hit the target but Darragh O’Brien kicked a fantastic score before Walshe wasted a brilliant goal chance.
Carlow definitely raised the tempo after the resumption. Paul Broderick, who was sensational against Kildare, had some poor misses but he did kick two excellent scores to bring Carlow within one.
And even though Niall Donoher and Kingston edged Laois further ahead, that missed chance by Redmond was crucial.
Laois did not make one goal opportunity but that wasn’t significant and John O’Loughlin and Evan O’Carroll, introduced after his father had passed away, sealed the deal.
Scorers for Laois: D Kingston 0-3(fs); R Munnelly 0-2(fs), C Begley, J O’Loughlin, F Crowley, A Farrell, N Donoher, E O’Carroll, B Glynn 0-1 each
Scorers for Carlow: P Broderick 0-5(4fs); D Walshe, D Foley (f), D O’Brien 0-1 each
Laois: G Brody, S Attride, M Timmons, G Dillon, T Collins, C Begley, F Crowley, J O’Loughlin, K Lillis, A Farrell, N Donoher, D O’Connor, R Munnelly, D Kingston, P Kingston. Subs: B Carroll for O’Connor (42), B Glynn for Farrell (46)
Carlow: R Molloy, C Crowley, S Redmons, C Lawlor, J Morrissey, D St Ledger, C Moran, S Murphy, E Ruth, S Gannon, D Foley, D Walshe, P Broderick, D O’Brien, J Murphy. Subs: B Kavanagh for Gannon inj (ht)
Referee: F Kelly (Longford)