Dominant Limerick brush Laois aside to book league semi-final place
Despite starting with just six players from their All-Ireland winning team, Limerick hammered Laois by 2-22 to 0-11 in Portlaoise to reach their second consecutive league semi-final.
Barry Murphy top scored for Limerick with an 0-8 tally including seven frees while Seamus Flanagan contributed 1-2,with Gearoid Hegarty and Peter Casey both hitting 0-3 in the rout. Conor Boylan scored the other goal for the All-Ireland champions.
With just a single win under their belts – over Offaly - in Division 1B, Eddie Brennan's side were always likely to struggle against such exulted company.
This was Laois' first appearance in a quarter-final since 1996. They shocked Kilkenny back then but the hurling landscape has changed utterly in the interim.
The ability of the weaker teams to pull off a shock win over any of the big guns has all but disappeared but at least Laois now know how much work remains to be done if they are to harbour ambitions of joining the elites.
Limerick were in experimental mood with the placing of Dan Morrissey at full back perhaps the most interesting of their changes. He looked comfortable on the edge of the square but he will face bigger challenges in the months ahead if he is retained in this pivotal poisition.
Essentially, though, this was an opportunity for the fringe players in the squad to stake a claim for more first team action in the months ahead.
As the rain cascaded down Laois started brightly with wing back Lee Cleere hitting over a smashing long range point from the left flank.
But with Limerick isolating their two corner forwards Peter Casey and Barry Murphy and withdrawing Seamus Flanagan, the Laois defence looked ill-equipped to deal with the Limerick attack and so it proved.
Flanagan started and finished a great move after five minutes to hit the visitors' first goal. It was 1-5 to 0-1 after ten minutes and given Limerick's superior skill-set, Laois looked to heading for a serious hiding.
But their work-rate was exemplary and had their finishing matched their approach work, we might have had a meaningful contest. But by half time Laois had chalked up 13 wides compared to five for their opponents.
Limerick's scoring rate dropped in the second quarter and though Laois were almost entirely dependent on Mark Kavanagh's frees to keep the scoreboard ticking over, they had reduced the deficit to six points (1-7; 0-4) ten minutes before the break.
But Limerick put on another scoring spurt before the break with Conor Boylan scoring their second goal after Barry Murphy created the chance and they were bang on course for a semi-final at the interval when they led 2-11 to 0-6.
Their six forwards had all scored whereas only three Laois players – including goalkeeper Enda Rowland, who pointed a long range free - had done likewise for the home side.
But it was more of the same in the second half; Barry Murphy’s 39th minute point meant that Limerick's six forwards had all scored from play.
Laois were noticeably more aggressive in the tackle but it was a dubious tactical move as they coughed up a succession of frees – mostly converted by Murphy. Laois did show some occasional flashes of excellence and a 51st minute point from Aaron Dunphy was the pick of the night.
The strength of the Limerick squad was underlined 15 minutes from the end when Gearoid Hegarty, who had knocked over three points from play, was replaced by Shane Dowling.
In any event, the Na Piarsaigh player didn't get any opportunities to inflict any more damage on the Laois defence. Though the game petered out to its inevitably outcome, the one consolation for Eddie Brennan was that his charges never dropped their heads. But the gulf in class meant that Laois never stood a realistic chance.
Laois: E Rowland (0-1, 1f); J Phelan, M Whelan, D Hartnett; P Delaney, R Mullaney, L Cleere (0-1); J Kelly (0-1), S Downey; P Purcell (0-1), M Kavanagh (0-6, 5f), A Dunphy (0-1); M Dowling, N Foyle, S Bergin. Subs: PJ Scully for Bergin 46m; S Maher for Dowling 53m; S Dowling for Hegarty 55m; D Connolly for Downey 59m; A Bergin for Foyle 65m
Limerick: B Hennessy; T Condon, D Morrissey, W O'Meara; D Byrnes (0-1,1f), D Hannon (0-1), B Nash; D O'Donovan (0-1, 1 sideline), R Hanley (0-1); G Hegarty (0-3), D Dempsey (0-1), C Boylan (1-1); P Casey (0-3), S Flanagan (1-2), B Murphy (0-8, 7f) Subs: A Costello for Condon ht; D Reidy for Casey 46m, C Ryan for Hanley 58m; A La Touche Cosgrave for Byrnes 63m
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)