Before throw-in last night a sense of anticipation started to swell around Carlow town as the locals geared up for another local derby.
Around 1,800 tickets were pre-sold, an overall crowd of 5,000 were on their way to Netwatch Cullen Park and a seven-minute video documenting the Carlow team's training regime was a hit on YouTube. Hopes of an upset were high.
That championship fever lasted all of 11 minutes. By then the game was as good as over. It had been 27 years since Carlow's last championship win over Laois, and with the hosts without five key players it was always going to be an uphill battle to repeat that feat against a Division 2 side. It was 15 minutes before Daniel St Ledger hit their first point from a free.
Before that, Laois, playing with the breeze from the start, had led them on a merry dance. Darren Strong broke free and popped over a lovely point from the right wing, with the breeze behind him, to put the visitors ahead. Carlow opted for a blanket defence with 13 men behind the ball but they got caught on the opposite wing moments later when Colm Begley hit a second point unmarked.
In the fifth minute Donie Kingston did exactly the same from the centre-forward slot. It was all too easy with no tackles going in as Kingston replicated that score in the seventh minute to put his men 0-4 to 0-0 up. A great team score finished by Conor Boyle and then another from Strong made it a lead of six after 12 minutes. If Carlow were playing the blanket, it wasn't providing much cover.
When they attacked they tended to drift out too far from goal but they showed patience to hit their second score, from Kieran Nolan, and it gave them a small lift. So too did Laois's inaccuracy - they hit five wides in quick succession in the first 22 minutes.
With Sean Gannon driving forward at every opportunity Carlow started winning frees. Darragh Foley kicked a placed ball in the 24th minute to take advantage of Gannon's industry. But then Laois found space and a move between Stephen Attride and Niall Donoher found Conor Boyle in space and he slotted home a goal to make it 1-7 to 0-3.
It was 1-10 to 0-3 at the break as the two-division gulf between the sides really showed. Essentially Carlow couldn't be faulted for their work rate, they just lacked runners from angles or support runs from deep in the opposition danger zone. In contrast, everything came easy to Laois - their players never had to get out of third gear.
With Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien banished to the stands due to a 12-week suspension his team tried to lift it on the restart. Foley pointed a free to reduce the gap to nine as the home side went back to an orthodox 15, and Derek Hayden's left footed score was one of the best of the day. St Ledger followed up with another classy free.
But a couple of Laois points and a goal from Kingston either side of Carlow's resurgence ended any semblance of a contest with 16 minutes still left. Kingston's goal was well taken - both he and O'Loughlin were constant thorns in the Carlow defence.
Tom Shiel's left footed rocket made it 3-16 to 0-7 with eight minutes to go and by then the crowd had started to trickle out and many missed a classy brace from Alan Kelly - the only Carlow forward to score. No upset here and sadly not even the sniff of one.
Scorers - Laois: D Kingston 1-5 (2f), C Boyle 1-1, T Shiel 1-0, J O'Loughlin 0-3, D Strong, R Munnelly 0-2 each, C Begley, E Carroll (f), P Kingston 0-1 each; Carlow: D St Ledger (2fs), D Foley (2fs), A Kelly 0-2 each, D Hayden, K Nolan 0-1 each.
Laois: G Brody, D O'Connor, M Timmons, S Attride, D Strong, R Keogh, C Begley, B Quigley, J O'Loughlin, N Donoher, C Boyle, E Carroll, R Munnelly, D Kingston, P Kingston. Subs: T Shiel for P Kingston (50), B Sheehan for Carroll (57), C Meredith for Donoher (58), G Hanrahan for O'Connor (60), E Lowry for Munnelly (62), G Dillon for Begley (65).
Carlow: R Molloy, BJ Molloy, S Redmond, K Nolan, M Fitzgerald, D St Ledger, B Kavanagh, S Gannon, D Foley, C Moran, E Ruth, D Bambrick, A Kelly, E Finnegan, D O'Brien. Subs: D Hayden for Fitzgerald (h/t), D Roberts for Bambrick (47), E McCormack for O'Brien (55), J Kennedy for Moran (55), D Kelly for Molloy(55), D Moran for Nolan (67).
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)
Sunday Indo Sport