Tuesday 20 August 2019

Even loss won't spoil Brennan's bonus day

Pat Critchley. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Pat Critchley. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Forty years ago this month, Laois led Galway by four points early in the last quarter of the All-Ireland hurling quarter-final in Birr.

Laois, who had won the All-Ireland 'B' championship, were hurling much better than their much higher-ranked opponents and might well have held out if it weren't for a fortuitous goal from a free by PJ Molloy.

It sparked a western revival which, when coupled with a collapse in Laois confidence, enabled Galway to drive on to a seven-point win.

In the dressing-room afterwards (journalists were allowed into the hallowed sanctuary back then to talk to any and every player), men such as Molloy, John Connolly, Seán Silke, Conor Hayes and Iggy Clarke spoke about how fortunate Galway were.

A month later, they beat Cork, treble All-Ireland champions in 1976, 1977 and 1978, in the semi-final and a year later no fewer than 13 of the Galway team that struggled to beat Laois were aboard the squad that won the All-Ireland for the first time in 57 years.

There's been a marked difference in the direction Laois and Galway hurling has taken over four decades and now you wonder what the future holds in store for the Midlanders, whose win over Dublin last Sunday changed the way their own people - and indeed the rest of the country - look at them.

"If you don't believe, you can't achieve. Eddie Brennan got these lads believing and now it's all about keeping on believing," said Pat Critchley, the only Laois hurler to win an All-Star and a man who has put in a lot of hard work at schoolboy and underage level over the years.

Belief was very much in evidence last Sunday, especially when Dublin looked to have positioned themselves for a winning surge in the second half.

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There was a time when Laois might have accepted that their case had come up short, lost after a creditable performance, and felt happy that the year ended with a Joe McDonagh Cup success and promotion to the Leinster Championship next year.

Instead, they re-doubled their efforts and discovered that Dublin were a lot more brittle than anyone thought.

Tomorrow brings a new and more demanding challenge. As well as being better than Dublin, Tipperary have been well-warned about the Laois threat.

Liam Sheedy has had a week to analyse them, both individually and as a team, which makes the task for Laois much more demanding.

In addition, they will be playing their third game in 15 days, a gruelling schedule for any outfit, let alone a group who expended so much physical and mental energy last Sunday.

Critchley insists that the adrenalin rush from the brilliant experience will keep them going, but for how long?

It will certainly be helpful in the early stages, but unless they stay in the game, tiredness may become a factor.

Tipperary will be on full throttle, not only because of how Laois played last Sunday, but also because players are back on trial after the comprehensive defeat by Limerick. This is their last chance to sort things out so it's an important day for them.

A Tipperary win looks certain, with the margin decided by how well Laois fare in the first quarter.

If they get out of the blocks quickly, they will make it interesting but a slow start would leave them vulnerable to a sizeable defeat.

Verdict: Tipperary

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