Galway off to a flyer
THE sense of history opening up a new chapter for Galway and Leinster hurling was soon dispelled as a clinical show by the Tribesmen left Laois on the wrong end of a serious hammering at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise.
Fifty years ago, Galway entered the Munster championship and opened with a 24-point beating inflicted by Waterford.
The current crop were in no mood to entertain the notion of a debut Leinster defeat, despite manager John McIntyre admitting the men in maroon felt under some pressure.
His team began the game without captain, Ollie Canning, who has an Achilles tendon injury, with Eoin Lynch from Portumna taking over at left corner-back.
"It was important for us to establish some familiarity with the Leinster championship and to experience the atmosphere of what's happening down here," said McIntyre.
"I think our lads were under a little bit of pressure coming down here. They didn't know what to expect.
"Everybody's saying Galway should be inspired by the experience of coming into Leinster but I think it works the other way as well, and for the first 20 minutes Laois left their League form way behind and really put it up to us.
"They didn't stand on ceremony. Laois were well beaten in the end but they kept working and kept battling, and you've got to give them credit for that."
Unfortunately for the home supporters in the 3,500 crowd, the plucky work ethic of Laois proved fruitless in terms of affecting the result long before the end.
They were hit with two goals in quick succession by Niall Healy and the charismatic Joe Canning just on the 15-minute mark, which put the score 2-4 to 0-1 in Galway's favour.
Laois left half-forward Owen Holohan had scored their first point of the game after 12 minutes, but Galway were already looking dangerous every time they got the sliotar into the Laois half.
As a contest, the game was pretty free-flowing and with little sign of nastiness, until all hell broke loose by the sideline near the stand with 30 minutes gone.
There had been one or two niggles before that, and Laois half-back Michael McEvoy was yellow-carded for one of them after 27 minutes.
But it all erupted when a loose ball was being contested and a pack of players from both sides were tussling for possession.
The red mist descended and the proverbial GAA 'schemozzle' ensued, with more pushing and shoving and wrestling than anything else, but hurleys were also wielded dangerously.
When the fuss died down and players were separated, referee Brian Gavin didn't mess about -- he red-carded Galway centre-forward Kevin Hayes and Laois midfielder James Young.
That was a big loss to Laois because Young was in form from frees and was making a strong contribution to his team's efforts to haul themselves back into the game.
Worse was to follow when McEvoy, already booked, recklessly threw himself into a tackle on Galway's Adrian Cullinane just after the two sendings-off, so Gavin also gave McEvoy his marching orders.
Thirteen men against 14, including a full-forward line of Damien Hayes, Joe Canning and Healy, all in a predatory mood? Forget it.
Canning ended the first half with 1-6 to his credit, Hayes had scored three points, and Healy got a goal and a point as his contribution towards a half-time scoreline of 2-11 to 0-7 in Galway's favour.
"I'm not going to condone anything that happened," said McIntyre. "He (the ref) could have given yellow cards to the two players he sent off.
"The game settled down after that but I'm sure it wasn't much of a spectacle after that. Fourteen against 13 -- it's not what the spectators pay their money to see."
Laois boss Niall Rigney knew his team were up against it, given Galway's quality, and he was disappointed with the dismissals.
"I thought it was harsh of the ref to send them off. I'm not defending anybody but it was very hard to lose a couple of important players in James Young and Mick McEvoy," he said.
"They were a big loss to us but the lads did battle on and I was proud of the team."
The only question about the second half was the margin by which Galway would win, and they never let up.
In fairness, though Laois depended on the excellent long and medium-range striking, mostly from frees, by skipper Brian Campion and centre-forward Willie Hyland for their scores, the home side kept battling.
The movement and hunger for scores which Joe Canning and the Galway forwards displayed in the second half meant there was no chance of face-saving heroics for Laois.
Canning departed just on the 60-minute mark. He hadn't been unduly extended but a couple of stylish breaks left defenders floundering and gave the crowd an appreciation of his talents.
Healy (two) and Damien Hayes got the second-half goals that considerably stretched the margin between the sides, and the Galway men tacked on another 18 points over the 37 minutes duration of that half.
Days like this in Leinster are few and far between, as Galway realise, but as a way of announcing yourselves in the province, this was quite an impressive calling card.
Scorers -- Galway: N Healy 3-5 (2f 1 '65), J Canning 1-10 (6f), D Hayes 1-3, K Hynes 0-4, A Callanan, C Donnellan 0-3 each, A Smyth 0-1. Laois: W Hyland 0-6 (4f), B Campion 0-5 (3f), O Holohan (1f), J Young 0-3 (3f) each.
Galway -- C Callanan; D Joyce, S Kavanagh, E Lynch; F Moore, J Lee, A Cullinane; K Hynes, A Smyth; A Callanan, K Hayes, C Donnellan; D Hayes, J Canning, N Healy. Subs: D McClearn for S Kavanagh (ht), B Costelloe for J Lee (46), D Tierney for D Hayes (55), M Ryan for F Moore (58), J Gantley for J Canning (59).
Laois -- T Doran; JA Delaney, D Maher, B Stapleton; M Whelan, B Campion, M McEvoy; J Young, J Walsh; D Peacock, W Hyland, O Holohan; J Purcell, J Rowney, E Jackman. Subs: S Dwyer for D Peacock (ht), K Fitzpatrick for B Stapleton (46), R Young for J Purcell (54).
REF -- B Gavin (Offaly).