OFFALY 0-13; LAOIS 2-6 TWENTY-two-year-old electrician Pascal Kellaghan supplied the crucial finishing power for Offaly with a dramatic last-gasp point in this Bank of Ireland Leinster SFC clash at Tullamore yesterday.
It looked odds on a replay at Portlaoise next Sunday between the midland adversaries and next door neighbours until Rhode clubman Kellaghan showed remarkable composure and maturity by steering the ball over the bar from a sideline kick on the left wing not far from the corner flag.
"I decided to shoot for a point, rather than lob it into the square, and even if the ball went wide we would have a replay next Sunday," said a delighted Kellaghan, who scored from a similar angle in this year's League clash with Dublin, also at O'Connor Park.
There was barely time for the kick-out to be taken before the final whistle was blown, leaving Offaly facing a Leinster semi-final meeting with Kildare on June 15, and Laois having to be content with a place in the All-Ireland qualifiers.
"It was a match that could have gone either way and we were quite lucky to come through," admitted a gracious Offaly manger Padraig Nolan.
"In fact, just before Pascal Kellaghan's winning point, I said to Colm Browne (Laois manager) that the game looked like ending with a draw.
"After Laois's penalty in the second half we faded quite a bit at midfield and we will have to show a lot of improvement against Kildare."
A disappointed Laois supremo Browne said: "It was on the card that eight scores would never be enough to win the match, and it was disappointing that we failed to play productive football when we had the momentum of a four-point lead in the first half."
Apart from Kellaghan's radar-like delivery for the winning score, there wasn't an awful lot else to enthuse about in a largely disappointing contest which marked Offaly's second championship win in successive years over their deadly rivals.
Admittedly the last 20 minutes or so produced a marked increase in the level of passion, cohesion, and the quality of football, but it scarcely compensated for an abundance of disappointing play which the approximate 10,000 crowd were forced to witness earlier on.
In fairness, the intermittent showers and a greasy surface did not help good quality football.
However, those factors didn't go anywhere to totally excusing the scrappy and untidy play, and frequently of unforced errors particularly the kicking away of possession to the opposition which permeated the exchanges on a large scale basis.
To compound the situation, the standard of refereeing by Derry man Michael Convery left a lot to be desired.
In the first half he gave a free against Offaly full forward Roy Malone when the player was clearly being fouled and then in the second half he gave a free to Offaly from which Colm Quinn scored when the free should have been given the other way. Twelve months ago Laois were probably unfortunate not to get the better of Offaly in the corresponding fixture at Croke Park. But despite the tightness of yesterday's scoreline, the honours arguably rest where they belong.
For most of the match, Offaly generally displayed the greater desire, teamwork and imagination, and were also in control for longer periods than the visiting side using their vast experience of big-time championship games.
With the exception of the early stages and the latter period of the second half, the Laois attack in which Brian McDonald and Chris Conway were prominent experienced major difficulty in making inroads on a very solid and well organised Offaly rearguard.
Cathal Daly played a real captain's part, and was capably assisted by John Kenny, Ger Rafferty and Karol Slattery.
Invariably when a Laois forward gained possession he was confronted by a minimum of two Offaly defenders.
At midfield, Ciaran McManus and Sean Grennan were generally in control for Offaly against Noel Garvan and Pauric Clancy, and up front Quinn, Malone and Kellaghan consistently troubled the Laois rearguard in which Tom Kelly, Kevin Fitzpatrick and Joe Higgins emerged with most credit.
A major disappointment for the O'Moore county was their failure to build on a very promising start when they repeatedly stretched the home defence.
In the first 15 minutes, Ian Fitzgerald, Brian McDonald and Greg Ramsbottom linked up extremely effectively.
And after former minor ace McDonald had opened the scoring on nine minutes, the same player neatly flipped the ball past goalkeeper Pauric Kelly six minutes later, after a delightful defence-splitting pass from Fitzgerald. But alarmingly in the remaining 20 minutes of the half, Laois scored just one more point through a free from Conway.
This was mostly due to Offaly's midfield dominance and resulting lack of supply to the visiting forward line.
After McDonald's goal, Offaly thundered back into the contest with two points in quick succession, and then four more on the trot after Conway's score.
Significantly, the fourth and fifth Offaly points, a pair of exceptional efforts from the right wing by McManus and Neville Coughlan really galvanised the home crowd into vocal action.
Despite their sluggish start Offaly managed to go in at the break 0-6 to 1-2 in front.
Within three minutes of the restart Laois levelled thanks to Conway, but then four consecutive Offaly points between the fifth and ninth minute suggested that Faithful county fans could already start to make plans for a meeting with the Lilywhites.
However, the game turned on its head due to a clinically struck penalty struck by Conway, after Brian McDonald had been brought down, the spot kick being directed low to the left of goalkeeper Kelly, who earlier in the half had pulled off a stunning stop from Brian McDonald.
Kelly also got his angles right to foil Ramsbottom and Garvan just before McDonald was pulled down.
Over the next 20 minutes the sides swopped four points before a brace of scores from Conway and sub Stephen Kelly pulled Laois back to parity after 35 minutes of the half.
But with a replay looking imminent, McManus after some fantastic work delivered a high ball into the Laois goal area.
And after the ball had been cleared over the sideline, Kellaghan proved the match winning hero for Offaly to send their supporters into raptures.
SCORERS Offaly: C Quinn 0-5 (5f), C McManus 0-3 (1f), P Kellaghan 0-2 (1 line ball), A McNamee, N Coughlan, R Malone 0-1 each. Laois: C Conway 1-3 (1-0 pen, 3f), B McDonald 1-1, P Clancy, S Kelly, 0-1 each.
OFFALY P Kelly (8), C Daly (8), J Kenny (7), B Mooney (7), J Hurst (6), G Rafferty (7), K Slattery (7), S Grennan (7), C McManus (8), C Quinn (7), F Cullen (6), A McNamee (6), N Coughlan (6), R Malone (7), P Kellaghan (8). Subs: P Mulhare (6) for Coughlan (56), D Ryan for Malone, D Claffey for Grennan (both 65). YELLOW CARD: N Coughlan (13m).
LAOIS F Byron (7), D Ryan (6), T Kelly (7), P McDonald (5), D Conroy (6), D Fitzpatrick (7), J Higgins (7), P Clancy (6), N Garvan (7), D McEvoy (7), I Fitzgerald (6), M Lawlor (5), B McDonald (7), G Ramsbottom (6), C Conway (7). Subs: D Brennan (6) P McDonald (49), Kavanagh (6) for Fitzgerald (59), S Kelly (7) for Ramsbottom (61). YELLOW CARDS: D Ryan (38), K Fitzpatrick (50).
REF M Convery (Derry).