Thursday 22 August 2019

John Mullane: 'Laois story of the summer begs the question of whether the GAA are accounting for such shocks'

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'Manager Eddie Brennan reportedly let his side have a few scoops to celebrate their Joe McDonagh victory.' Photo: Sportsfile
'Manager Eddie Brennan reportedly let his side have a few scoops to celebrate their Joe McDonagh victory.' Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Sheedy’s charges will prove a stiff test for the O’Moore men. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

John Mullane

We don't have to wait any longer for the story of the summer after Laois did what few thought possible last weekend and turned over the Dubs, just seven days after tasting Joe McDonagh Cup success.

It was a shock but people comparing it to Antrim's defeat of Offaly in 1989 or Kerry's defeat of Waterford in 1993 are being a bit disrespectful to Laois hurling and it was no Macedonia result.

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I wrote in last week's column that I expected a close affair with the Dubs to prevail following a scare as Laois were on the crest of a wave but it seems that Mattie Kenny's charges bought into the theory that everything was against the home side with a seven-day turnaround.

They seemed to think that an All-Ireland quarter-final against Tipperary was a formality and they were sent packing and it begs the question whether the GAA are accounting for such shocks?

Laois now face three huge games in two weeks and even the lining up of Dublin and Tipp - or so they thought - as the main event in Croke Park tomorrow was surely evidence of this with Cork and Kilkenny the 'curtain-raiser'.

Historically, Laois would always have fancied themselves against Dublin and that was strongly echoed by Eddie Brennan after the game when he cited last Friday night's team meeting as a eureka moment that they could do it.

What was very refreshing was that Brennan let his players go and enjoy the moment of winning the McDonagh Cup and with the majority of his panel under 25; locking his players up after a win would have had a negative effect.

It was also great to see him allowing his players to enjoy it again last Sunday night and sometimes it can be the making of team morale and bonds.

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The one word his master Brian Cody always spouted in Kilkenny was spirit and Brennan was full of praise for Laois' spirit - which he has fostered - and the heart that they have showed all season.

Credit 'Cheddar' Plunkett and Pat Critchley are two men that deserve great credit for their investment into Laois hurling in recent years and there would have been no prouder men last Sunday night.

The De La Salle WhatsApp group was also hopping because we have an adopted Laois man in Conor Bohan - a great asset to our club - and Donal Treacy, better known as 'Tra', who is working with Dave Moriarty on strength and conditioning.

Brennan has to be applauded for the job he has done. You could see after bouncing back from the seismic defeat to Westmeath when Kilkenny U-21 boss that he was going to mould into a top-class manager, while Niall Corcoran's influence as coach has also been crucial. He knew Dublin inside out and got all his match-ups spot on with the deployment of John Lennon as sweeper minimising Dublin's goal chances.

Selector Tommy Fitzgerald is another recently-retired inter-county player who knows what makes the modern player tick and having a barbecue and Buff Egan at their post-match meal generated a special atmosphere for all involved.

The post-match celebrations on the field are what lads who don't have the luxury of winning an All-Ireland or provincial medals live for; that's their Celtic Cross. Those minutes on the pitch are what you slogged for all winter.

There's no feeling like it when you see your fellow county men, women and children flooding onto the field with every emotion running through their bodies as they embrace their heroes.

It's those moments that you'd love to bottle and uncork them again when you're low in life because no money can buy it. Those 22 players that chose not to represent Laois must be kicking themselves with regret as they missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime moment. One man I have to admire is Ross King. It would have been totally understandable for him to stay away in the aftermath of last year's county final fiasco - where he had his front teeth knocked out in a nasty incident - but he didn't and he got his just rewards.

Liam Sheedy’s charges will prove a stiff test for the O’Moore men. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

The next task is mission impossible as they take on a wounded Tipperary team who will offer no sniff of complacency with Liam Sheedy bringing a siege mentality to get the ship sailing smoothly again after their Munster final defeat.

You'd imagine that there would be no mercy spared for Laois but they should have a right cut off Tipp as they are in bonus territory, similar to the Irish women's hockey team going into last year's World Cup final.

A bit like the girls against the Dutch, Laois face an uphill task but they have the luxury of a run-out in Croke Park two weeks ago and have runners like Paddy Purcell and Aaron Dunphy that can trouble Tipp, especially if Cathal Barrett isn't rushed back from injury.

It will come down to how mentally and physically sharp Laois are. Liam MacCarthy teams have struggled after three games in succession so, theoretically, it should be even more difficult for a McDonagh Cup team.

It's now they need an extra week and that might see them come unstuck, although I really hope that they can bring the same level of enthusiasm and spirit and make it a real dogfight.

It's Tipp for me, however, as I don't see the Premier attack misfiring like they did in the Munster final, but Laois will come inside the 15-point handicap.

What a warm-up act we have in Cork and Kilkenny and John Meyler's men are a dangerous proposition at GAA HQ.

Tally Cork got the job done against Westmeath last weekend clocking up a huge tally and they have the match-winners up front to take down any team in the wide open spaces on Jones' Road.

It's in their defence where Kilkenny can make hay and I'd expect to see some changes up front with Ger Aylward and John Donnelly coming in along with Cillian Buckley and possibly Tommy Walsh and Jason Cleere at the back.

Beating the Cats in Leinster is one thing, but finishing their summer is an entirely different proposition as Limerick found out 12 months ago and they will die with their boots on.

That victory was the making of Limerick and if Cork can do likewise, they will really smell the opportunity of going the whole way and perhaps beating Limerick in two weeks' time. But it will be anything but easy.

The match-ups will be intriguing and it'll be interesting to see what Cork do about TJ Reid. Will Mark Ellis pick him up? Does he go and man-mark him if so?

The other Kilkenny forwards - aside from the brilliant Adrian Mullen - need to put the foot on the gas to have any chance of winning but I just think the Rebel firepower will tip the balance and get them over the line in a tight affair.

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