Sparks fail to fly on pitch as Laois misfire
REGRETTABLY the only fireworks in this Leinster SHC at Tullamore yesterday materialised before the throw-in when at least 10 players became involved in an ugly altercation as referee Michael Haverty waited to start the game.
There was wild swinging of sticks, but no serious damage was done to any party. Nevertheless the match officials handed out yellow cards to Offaly midfielder Brendan Murphy and his Laois counterpart Shane Dollard.
But any expectations that the prelude might be a favourable portent for a combative contest were dashed from an early stage.
The O'Moore men's promising opening fizzled out, and Offaly, who face All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final on Sunday week, showed why they were scorching favourites yesterday.
After 10 minutes, the sides were deadlocked at 0-4 each, but the Laois backs began to give Offaly's forwards room and space, which they used to stormed into a 0-10 to 0-4 lead after 25 minutes, and into a 0-15 to 0-6 position at the interval.
It was similarly one-sided in the second half, and Offaly fans in the 6,000 crowd were delighted when Damien Murray cut in from the right wing and beat Laois goalkeeper Patrick Mullaney with a low shot on 62 minutes.
It's a telling indication of the poverty of the Laois performance that they managed to score only two points from play - one from midfielder Joe Fitzpatrick and corner-forward Joe Phelan.
James Young shot the other eight points from frees, but was capably policed by championship newcomer David Kenny.
On the restart, Young twice tried to blast the ball to the net from close-in frees, but each time his effort was batted away by the defence.
Arguably, with the exception of centre-back Matthew Whelan, Joe Fitzpatrick and Joe Phelan, the Laois players, seven of whom were Championship first timers, failed to make a reasonable impressive.
"It's a big step up from Division Two to Division One and we found that gap too difficult to bridge," reflected Laois boss Damien Fox.
In reply to the view that his side struggled physically, Fox said: "I think the main difference between the teams was Offaly's speed of thought and speed of play.
"They were much quicker to react to the breaking ball, and although we had the benefit of playing against Limerick, that was only a league match which, of course, lacks the intensity of a championship match.
"We go back training on Thursday and we'll regroup for the qualifiers," added Fox.
Offaly supremo John McIntyre will have been pleased with the promising debut of Kenny in the key centre-back position.
And he must also have been highly satisfied with the quality of the performances turned in by fellow defenders Paul Cleary and Conor Hernon, Brendan Murphy at midfield, and Murray, the Hanniffy brothers, Rory and Gary, and Brian Carroll up front.
Eleven points of Murray's 1-12 haul was registered from placed balls. But as well as his scoring contribution, he set up a host of chances for his colleagues and also forced a great save of goalkeeper Mullaney.
"We knew coming into this game that if we won by only three of four points it would be a bad omen for our game against Kilkenny," said McIntyre.
"So it's hard to argue against a 19-point winning margin. We needed a big win over Laois to confirm the promise that myself, Aidan Fogarty and Paddy Cleary (fellow selectors) feel this team possesses.
"These lads are a better team than people think, and we want to drive home to them that they possess a lot of ability and flair. Some people seem to think that it will take two years to build these lads into a reasonable team, but we don't think it will take that long."
When it was suggested to the team manager that his side looked very much up for the game, he replied: "Over the last few weeks there was a bit of friction in the camp over injuries and the like, and that definitely proved a plus for us. In contrast everything was going great in training prior to last year's Leinster semi-final against Wexford, and yet we lost."
But turning to the clash against Kilkenny, McIntyre warned: "We got away with a lot of mistakes today, but we will be certainly punished in a big way if we have a repeat against Kilkenny."
SCORERS - Offaly: D Murray 1-12 (9f, 2 '65s'); R Hanniffy 0-5 (1 l/b), B Carroll 0-3, G Hanniffy, J Bergin 0-2 each, B Murphy, M Cordial 0-1 each. Laois: J Young 0-8 (8f), J Fitzpatrick, Joe Phelan 0-1 each.
TEAMS AND PLAY RATINGS
OFFALY - B Mullins 6; C Hernon 7, P Cleary 7, B O'Mara 6; K Brady 6, D Kenny 7, G Oakley 6; B Teehan 6, B Murphy 7; R Hanniffy 8, G Hanniffy 7, D Molloy 6; J Bergin 7, B Carroll 8, D Murray 9. Subs: S Dooley for Bergin 61, C Slevin for Molloy 65, D Franks for Oakley 66, C Parlon for Murphy 67, M Cordial for Teehan 68.
LAOIS - P Mullaney 7; C Fitzpatrick 5, C Healey 5, D Rooney 5; M McEvoy 5, M Whelan 7, C Dunne 5; J Fitzpatrick 7, S Dollard 5; W Hyland 5, J Young 6, J Brophy 6; Joe Phelan 7, T Fitzgerald 5, Jason Phelan 5. Subs: James Walsh 5 for Dollard 30; E Jackman 5 for C Fitzpatrick h/t; John Walsh 5 for Hyland 53; P Russell for Jason Phelan 61.
REF - M Haverty (Galway).