Laois 2-14 Kerry 1-24: Possibly not a result that will take too many by surprise, but the manner in which Kerry went about demolishing their hosts in Portlaoise yesterday afternoon was revealing as the Kingdom found their feet at the start of their journey in Division 1B.
A difference of seven points between the counties was, if anything, flattering to Laois who led for no more than a sum total of three minutes in the first-half before being outplayed and overrun by last season’s 2A champions.
“You will always be rewarded for the effort you put in,” said Kerry manager Ciaran Carey. “That’s what happened. We had them the last four months. They made a serious effort and they deserved that. They earned the right to get in to 1B and they have put down a marker to stay in it now.
“But they need to play like they did today every day.” It is a win which Carey admits “takes the heat off” Kerry. They face his native Limerick in Fitzgerald Stadium next week and, though Carey spoke bullishly about “matching anyone” in 1B, there will be an inevitable wander of the eye towards their meeting with Offaly in Birr on March 20.
Win that and they should book a second season in the second tier and such was Kerry’s display here that you wouldn’t bet against it. Their touch was so much better, they dominated Laois in the air, their score-taking was sublime and they looked hungrier to boot.
Carey spoke afterwards like a man who was in no way taken aback by what he had witnessed. He watched Laois get “a small bit if a trimming” off Dublin in the Walsh Cup last month and there were two-thirds of that team facing them yesterday.
Kerry were competitive in the Munster Senior Hurling League, though Clare did run through them and they lost all four ties, and Carey had ten of the side starting here who lined out last year when they filleted Derry in the Christy Ring Cup decider.
So, they travelled northwards unlaboured by expectation but with a quiet confidence. Laois, by contrast, must have expected that this was a game littered with risk as they had lost five key players from last year’s team to retirements.
Not just that but key scorer Zane Keenan and Willie Hyland were not yet fit to start after time off the panel. In the end, they had five defenders starting in their slots for the first time and a forward line with no player over the age of 23.
Kerry had their first score within eleven seconds through Michael O’Leary and the sides swapped scores until the 13th minute when Mikey Boyle ran on to a long ball behind the Laois rearguard and somehow squeezed his shot past Enda Rowland and his near post for the first goal.
Other opportunities slipped them by besides.
Shane Nolan, who missed only one of his eleven shots on goal from play and dead balls, found himself bearing down on the sticks at another point but overran the ball and spilled it wide while young Jack Goulding cracked the crossbar with another shot that flew out for a sideline.
Laois were keeping in touch only through one long-distance effort after another. They had to given the atrocious quality of the ball into their full-forward line so it was a surprise when Patrick Purcell scrambled in a goal for them on 32 minutes.
That allowed them to take the break at just one point adrift – 1-11 to 1-10 – but they faced the worst of a stiff diagonal wind on the restart: that and a Kerry side that progressed through the gears by landing twelve of the next fourteen points.
The home team never looked like pulling anything from the fire that was engulfing them and the gap had yawned to ten points before corner-back Cahir Healy hit a spectacular effort to the roof of the Kerry net with five minutes to play.
A bad day for them, then, all the more so given centre-half-forward Charlie Dwyer went and got himself a straight red in injury-time to take the shine off his four points from play. A long year looms ahead for him and his colleagues.
Manager Seamus Plunkett all but admitted as much.
“There’s big changes here as such, coming in with four or five of last year’s championship team. It’s going to take a while to get things right.
“Scorers for Laois:
PJ Scully (0-6, 4 frees, 1 ‘45’); C Dwyer (0-4); C Healy and P Purcell (both 1-0); C Collier (0-2); M Whelan, S Maher (both 0-1).
Scorers for Kerry:
S Nolan (0-8, 5 frees, 2 ‘45’); J Egan (0-4); M Boyle (1-1); J Goulding (0-3); M O’Leary, P Kelly and C Harty (all 0-2); J Griffin and J Conway (both 0-1).
E Rowland; O Carroll, D Maher, C Healy; L Bergin, N Foyle, R Mullaney; M Whelan, B Reddin; C Collier, C Dwyer, D Palmer; PJ Scully, P Purcell, S Maher.
J Phelan for Reddin (47); J Lennon for Whelan (52); M Kavanagh for Palmer (56); T Delaney for D Maher (72).
M Stockpoole; L Carmody, B Murphy, S Weir; D Collins, D Dineen, T Murnane; P Kelly, T Casey; C Harty, M O’Leary, S Nolan; J Goulding, M Boyle, J Egan.
J Griffin for Dineen (58); J Conway for Egan (65).
C McAllister (Cork).
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