Rejuvenated Faithful set up Galway clash
Offaly 3-22 Laois 2-14
What a difference five weeks make.
Offaly were left staring into an abyss following their 14-point mauling to Westmeath but they looked a different side yesterday, underpinned by a ferocious work-rate, as they emphatically put Laois to the sword by 11 points in O'Connor Park.
In doing so, the Faithful County avenged last year's championship defeat to Laois, their first in 43 years, and regained their place in the Leinster SHC for 2017 as the O'Moore men head back to the round-robin system.
The hook/block/turnover count will make pleasant reading for manager Eamonn Kelly, who came under intense pressure over the last month, and he looks to have turned the corner with this young side.
"The three championship games that we have behind us stood to us, same as they did to Laois last year. The lads got to the pace of it a bit quicker," Kelly said before admitting they've "nothing to lose" against Galway in a fortnight's time and "will have a right cut" at them.
Despite Offaly's first-half dominance, and a well-taken goal from James Mulrooney, the sides were all square at the break, 1-10 apiece, as PJ Scully's scrambled goal gave Laois an early lifeline.
But when Joe Bergin fired to the net within 60 seconds of the resumption, there was no stopping them as Shane Dooley, who finished with 1-11 from placed balls, and the industrious Shane Kinsella led 11 different Faithful scorers over the 70 minutes.
Despite the best efforts of Cahir Healy, who kept Dooley under wraps from play, and fellow joint-captain Charles Dwyer, who hit five points, Laois limped out of the Leinster Championship with Willie Dunphy's late goal barely raising a cheer.
Minus a number of elder statesmen from last year, Laois boss Cheddar Plunkett bemoaned their second-half collapse.
"We missed the leadership of experienced players when the pressure came on. You have to work really hard to get back into the game and we couldn't do that."
A trio of Dooley frees handed Offaly a fine start and they were unlucky not to be further ahead when Healy and Patrick Purcell executed magnificent blockdowns on Mulrooney and Dooley in quick succession to deny certain goals.
The sides were level at 0-5 each before James Dempsey pulled off an incredible save from Dwyer which seemed to spur the Faithful into life and buoyed by a big home support, Mulrooney fired a neat goal following a brilliant turnover by Paddy Murphy.
Plunkett's side delivered what looked like telling punches before the break as Scully bundled over the line, after Dempsey again saved from Foyle, but Offaly took over after the break, outscoring their neighbours 2-12 to 1-4 with Bergin and Dooley strikes sealing the deal.
Kelly, who had enlisted the services of former Tipperary boss Eamon O'Shea in preparation, always had faith in his sharpshooting duo.
"I knew Laois were going to man-mark Joe and Shane but the cream always rises to the top," he said. "Joe was held early on but he got a sniff of a goal when we needed it."
SCORERS - Offaly - S Dooley 1-11 (1-0 pen, 9f, 2 '65s), J Bergin 1-1, J Mulrooney 1-0, S Kinsella 0-3, S Ryan, S Gardiner, P Murphy, K Connolly, C Kiely, S Cleary, L Langton 0-1 each.
Laois - PJ Scully 1-3 (2f, 1 '65), C Dwyer 0-5, W Dunphy 1-0, N Foyle & S Maher (1f) 0-2 each, E Rowland (f) & W Hyland 0-1 each.
OFFALY - J Dempsey 8; C McDonald 7, D Shortt 5, P Rigney 7; D King 7, S Gardiner 8, D Mooney 7; S Ryan 8, P Camon 6; S Kinsella 8, J Bergin 7, P Murphy 7; K Connolly 7, J Mulrooney 6, S Dooley 7 Subs: C Kiely 7 for D Shortt (h-t), L Langton 7 for K Connolly (57), S Cleary 7 for J Mulrooney (60), J Sampson for S Ryan (63), D Kelleher for D Mooney (68).
LAOIS - E Rowland 7; C Healy 8, D Maher 6, D Palmer 6; L Bergin 6, M Whelan 6, R Mullaney 6; J Lennon 6, C Stapleton 6; W Hyland 6, C Dwyer 8, S Maher 6; P Purcell 7, N Foyle 7, PJ Scully 6 Subs: B Conroy 6 for C Stapleton (45), T Delaney 6 for R Mullaney (48), W Dunphy 7 for PJ Scully (52), R King 6 for J Lennon (58), O Carroll for T Delaney inj (66).
REF - J Ryan (Tipperary)