Canning scores leave Laois reeling
Galway 3-28 Laois 1-14
For the last two years their performances against Galway in the championship have helped sustain the faith of those promoting the cause of Laois hurling.
Two years ago, they were within seven points; last year, the gap was reduced to a tantalising two. But hurling is a game where one's fortunes can vary wildly, and cruelly, in a short space of time, as they did in Tullamore yesterday, when the difference stretched to a demoralising 20 points.
Hurling is always keen on a new act and Laois arrived in good spirits after a first championship win over Offaly in 43 years. Under Cheddar Plunkett's management, they have started to regain a measure of self-esteem unseen since their last good spell in the 1980s.
But they will have to endure more harsh lessons before they reach the place they want to be. After a first quarter when they hurled smartly into the wind, using extra cover at the back, the floodgates opened and Galway began to sing.
Level at 0-2 apiece and by no means outclassed, Laois conceded a freak goal from Johnny Coen after he received a short puck-out and drove the ball downfield. It hopped wickedly past Eoin Reilly for the softest of goals.
Having set themselves up to avoid easy concessions, this was a huge blow to morale. It turned out the opening quarter was a tease; there would be no match worth talking about for the crowd of 8,802 who turned up to see if Laois could end a 30-year wait and reach the Leinster final.
Galway lost their free-taker and corner-forward Jason Flynn to a broken finger, which meant Joe Canning returned to duty on dead balls, and his striking was immaculate all through. He finished with 1-15, a bounty that featured nine frees and two 65s. Having crushed Dublin in the quarter-finals at the same venue, 5-19 to 1-18, they were firm favourites to reach a fourth Leinster final appearance since 2010 and, if there is a worry, it is that they go into the showpiece event on July 5 without a serious test in their last two games.
The importance of a good start could not be over-emphasised for Laois after the manner in which Galway stamped their authority in the replay win over Dublin with three goals by Cathal Mannion after just 11 minutes. Yet even that was not enough. Stephen Maher, named at corner-forward, was deployed as a sweeper. Matthew Whelan dropped back to mark Canning, while Cahir Healy policed Mannion. It left them short of manpower up front and required a precision of delivery sometimes beyond them but, unlike Dublin, they dug in and made a match of it, for a while at least, midfielder Paddy Purcell's levelling point after seven minutes almost finding the Galway net. Purcell was their best hurler, scoring three fine points from play.
After denying the Tribesmen a score from play after the first quarter, Coen's goal seemed to spook them and fuelled greater Galway industry and purpose. John Hanbury scored a long-distance point from play immediately afterwards, and more scores from Andy Smith and Canning opened the space between the teams to seven points.
Suddenly, Galway were racing ahead and by half-time all their full-back line had scored from play, Padraig Mannion even outscoring his brother Cathal with two points.
It could have been worse, a lovely reverse pass by Canning opening the path to goal for Cyril Donnellan after 27 minutes. Reilly made a fine diving save. But Laois looked doomed at half time, 0-2 to 1-18 down, having conceded 1-15 without reply.
Laois tried to make inroads - with the wind, abandoning the sweeper and having a go. Purcell scored some sweet points and Maher nailed a goal, but Galway always responded and Canning's goal 13 minutes into the half put them 2-20 to 1-5 clear.
Davy Glennon came on and scored the third goal after 58 minutes. There was no way back.
Scorers - Galway: J Canning 1-15 (0-9 fs; 0-2 '65s'); D Glennon 1-2; J Coen 1-0; David Burke, P Mannion, N Healy, A Smith 0-2; C Mannion, J Hanbury, P Brehony 0-1. Laois: Z Keenan 0-5 (0-3 fs; 0-2 '65s'), S Maher 1-1; P Purcell 0-3, P Whelan 0-2, C Dwyer, T Fitzgerald, J Campion 0-1.
Galway: C Callanan; J Coen, J Hanbury, P Mannion; D Collins, I Tannian, Daithi Burke; A Smith, A Harte; David Burke, C Donnellan, J Glynn; C Mannion, J Canning, N Healy. Subs: D Glennon for Healy (39 mins); J Cooney for Donnellan (47); P Brehony for Harte (52); G McInerney for Collins (55); F Moore for C Mannion (60).
Laois: E Reilly; J Delaney, C Healy, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, T Delaney; J Campion, P Purcell; T Fitzgerald, Z Keenan, C Dwyer; D Palmer, W Hyland, S Maher. Subs: P Whelan for Delaney (46 mins); N Foyle for Campion (54); B Conroy for Fitzgerald (63).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).
Sunday Indo Sport