With neither team seriously threatened by relegation, this was really nothing more than a pre-championship rehearsal but what could have been a ‘by the numbers’ encounter instead served up a feast of hurling despite the wet conditions and slightly bumpy surface.
For all that, Offaly manager Mike McNamara seemed no more than reasonably happy by the two points collected.
Of more importance for the former Galway trainer was the chance to deal with a full deck of players for the first time since his appointment.
“It’s been good to integrate (the Birr players), marry them back into the system that we have, which is maybe a slightly different way of playing to what they’ve been used to,” said
McNamara. “That’ll take its time and its toll. There were a few misunderstandings at times out there, but that’s to be expected as the Birr contingent only starting working again this week.
"We’ve seven weeks left to get that done though. They’ve integrated well and it’s a happy camp.”
Inevitably, talk turned to whether or not Brian Whelahan would be returning with the rest of his All-Ireland-winning clubmates.
McNamara gave little away but his tone was rather optimistic.
Asked if there was ‘any sign’ of Whelahan, the manager quipped: “He’s just up the road there,” pointing in the direction of the Whelahan family pub in the town centre.
“Some players look for a couple of extra days off for a variety of reasons, exams, holidays and I’ve no problem with that.
"Some players looked for an extra week and they got it and I’ve no problem with that. Hopefully, it’ll all work out this week and it can all be out from under the mat.”
The Birr infusion certainly played its part in Offaly’s win, but it was Ballyskenagh’s Brendan Murphy and Coolderry’s Damien Murray who provided the bulk of the scores, notching 1-7 between them.
Indeed, it was Laois, rather than their hosts, who resembled a team getting re-acquainted with one another at the off and when Murphy took advantage of Tom
Phelan’s slip after five minutes the Faithful were 0-2 to 0-1 ahead.
Wind assisted Laois rallied and after the initial 35 they were 0-9 to 0-4 in front. It should have been more.
James Young and Darren Rooney were dominant across the centre as the former picked off five points in that half, four from frees.
Offaly were finding the Laois rearguard stubborn on the occasions of some offensive forays.
The expected Offaly push arrived on cue after the change of ends and, when Murray latched on to Rory Hanniffy’s handpass to bury the ball into John Lyons’s net after 46 minutes to draw the game level, Laois’ chances of keeping pace looked slim.
However, Liam Tynan’s goal only six minutes later meant they took a 1-11 to 1-9 advantage. The hosts were still applying the more pressure, especially as Laois’ stranglehold at midfield was only a distant memory.
The latter stages were mostly about pointed frees and even though Offaly’s Murray had to retire injured, his dead ball duties were ably taken over by Colm Cassidy and substitute Simon Whelahan scored a worthy winner with four minutes to go.
Scorers: Offaly: B Murphy: 0-5, D Murray 1-2 (2 frees), C Cassidy 0-2 frees, S Brown 0-2, R Hanniffy 0-1, J Errity 0-1, S Whelahan 0-1 free.
Laois: J Young 0-7 (1 free), L Tynan 1-0, P Cuddy 0-2 (1 free), B McCormack 0-2, E Meaghar 0-1, D Rooney 0-1.
OFFALY: S Byrne; B Teehan, G Oakley, J Errity; N Claffey, J Brady, C Cassidy; B Whelahan, K Brady; B Carroll, S Byrne, G Hanniffy; B Murphy, R Hanniffy, D Murray. Subs: P Molloy for B Carroll 48, S Whelahan for D Murray 56.
LAOIS: J Lyons; L Mahon, Pakie Cuddy, T Phelan; C Cuddy, P Cuddy, M McEvoy; J Young,D Rooney; J Phelan, P Mahon, E Meaghar; L Wynne, L Tynan, T Fitzgerald. Subs: B McCormack for J Phelan 25, M Dunphy for L Wynne 55, D Culleton for T Fitzgerald 59.
Referee: S McMahon (Clare).