Offaly 1-17 Laois 0-15: This was Offaly’s 25th league win over their neighbours, Laois, and it was probably as important as any that came before.
Both of these sides were under pressure, after opening-round losses. Laois were smarting after their shock, home defeat to Kerry. Offaly didn’t make the most of the wind in the opening half and lost a man when midfielder, Joey O’Connor, got a red card for a pull on Ciaran Collier, seven minutes after the restart, so the game was there for the taking for Laois.
But they never looked like taking it, and this was admitted by manager, Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett, with typical frankness.
“We didn’t. There are a couple of things contributing to that. We are a very, very young team. Maybe, today, we might have only had five of last year’s championship team. Some of the things that we are missing, here, are leadership and experience. We have got to replace all of that. The team is in transition and we are restructuring our team here. We are taking our time doing that. We have a lot of young players playing here.
“In doing that, we are just giving them the opportunity to build confidence in the positions that they’re in. We will be doing this over the next couple of rounds, as well.
“And, maybe, looking at making a couple of changes, again, next week and the week after that. And, eventually, we will come to a settled team.”
The danger, of course, is that their stay in Division 1B might be perilous at that stage. They host Clare next time out, so it’s not as if this campaign is getting any easier.
The sides were deadlocked, at 0-10 apiece, when O’Connor got his marching orders. Offaly were facing into the wind and rain, and Laois had just outscored them, by 0-4 to 0-1, in the seven minutes since the break. Only one winner then, it seemed.
“I thought the lads fought well, particularly when we were down to 14,” said Offaly manager, Eamonn Kelly. “It looked like a hill to climb, at the time. We worked very hard off the ball, our forwards in particular. They worked very hard to keep pressure on their clearances and that was what the difference was. I thought our backs battled really hard. Any scores that Laois got, they really earned them.
“Laois are a fine side. The lads’ memory only needs to go back to last June, where they were turned over by Laois. And after they were beaten by Kerry, last weekend, they were going to bounce back and they did. But what I liked about our lads is that Laois did respond. But we responded that bit better and, thankfully, it was enough to get us across the line.”
That didn’t look likely when Laois goalkeeper, Enda Rowland, landed a couple of long-range frees to cut the gap at the interval to 0-9 to 0-6, after Offaly had failed to make the elements count in their favour.
But they had a match-winner in Shane Dooley. It was a difficult day for striking the ball, but the Tullamore man responded to the challenge in typical fashion and delivered half a dozen points in each half.
Laois were crying out for someone with that ability to hit the target readily, and while Stephen Maher hit three from play, and the introduction of Zane Keenan and Willie Hyland added experience, they never grasped the game in the second-half.
Instead, Dooley kept the umpires warm and last season’s Offaly, minor ‘hurler of the year’, Liam Langton, announced his arrival in the national league by cracking home a goal from a tight angle to seal it in the dying moments.
Scorers for Offaly:
S Dooley 0-12 (7f, 0-1 ’65), L Langton 1-0, P Murphy 0-2, J O’Connor 0-1, C Egan 0-1, S Kinsella 0-1.
Scorers for Laois:
PJ Scully 0-5 (5f), S Maher 0-3, Z Keenan 0-2 (f, 0-1 ’65), E Rowland 0-2 (2f), R King 0-2, W Hyland 0-1.
J Dempsey; N Wynne, C McDonald, S Gardiner; D Shortt, D Kelleher, P Camon; S Ryan, J O’Connor; P Murphy, C Egan, S Kinsella; S Dooley, J Bergin, J Mulrooney.
Subs for Offaly:
J Gorman for J Mulrooney (25 mins), P Guinan for Kelleher (51), L Langton for Gorman (61), J Sampson for Ryan (70), S Cleary for Murphy (72)
E Rowland; D Palmer, D Maher, C Healy; L Bergin, N Foyle, R Mullaney; T Delaney, M Whelan; P Purcell, S Maher, C Collier; R King, W Dunphy, PJ Scully.
Subs for Laois:
B Reddin for Purcell (49 mins) Z Keenan for Dunphy (53), W Hyland for Collier (54), C Stapleton for Delaney (58), M Kavanagh for Scully (70).
P O’Dwyer (Carlow).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved