Off-colour Tipp just do enough as Laois's summer ends with honour still intact
Tipperary 2-25 Laois 1-18
The sterile detail of their summer eviction will be easily forgotten, but not the ovation spilling down on Laois hurlers as they disappeared from sight beneath the Hogan Stand.
Even Tipperary, ten points their superiors here, suspended their warm-down to stand and applaud. It wasn't a breezy or patronising thing, just the spontaneous act of men who knew from aching bodies and whistling minds that this had been no garden party.
"A tricky fixture," was Liam Sheedy's description of the game, and who could argue?
Tipp never looked likely to trip up here, but neither did they hurl with anything close to the coherence tingling through their play a month back. Some of that was down to a Laois defence supplemented - naturally - in numbers, but there was a profound carelessness in Tipp's hurling too.
They looked like a team struggling to put any rhythm into their play.
Seamie Callanan was their solitary forward to register a score from play in the first-half and three - Dan McCormack, John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer and Niall O'Meara - went the entire day without raising a flag between them. John McGrath, it must be said, looked faintly off colour too.
This wasn't the free-flowing murder squad that had audiences swooning across May and June. It was a team still - seemingly - wrestling with so many uncertainties unzipped by that brutal Munster final whipping.
So Sheedy wasn't making any bold claims about momentum re-gathered here. How could he?
Laois did what circumstance compelled them to do, deploying a sweeper and compressing bodies into the middle third. It meant that nonchalant hurling would get Tipp precisely nowhere.
And, at times, that looked like the hurling they wanted to play.
As their manager reflected: "You know a lot of people saying all week that you just had to come up. That's always a dangerous place to be. Eddie (Brennan) has that team playing really well, Laois have a great spirit about them.
"They gave us lots of it. Look, we've managed to cross the line and get into the last four, but we're under no illusions.
"That level of performance wouldn't be enough to take us any further. We wouldn't really be happy with where we got to today. But the talk all week was as if Laois weren't in the championship.
"And that is difficult. We played second fiddle in a lot of sectors of that game. And the one-to-one battles. You know there were parts of their play that we had no answer to. That's a concern."
Jason Forde's 11th-minute Hill-end penalty was followed - five minutes later - by a gorgeous Callanan strike, the Drom-Inch man controlling Noel McGrath's typically erudite delivery on the hurley before firing past Enda Rowland from a tight angle. Those goals put Tipp five points clear and, seemingly, poised to free-wheel.
Maybe that slipped into their subconscious.
But Laois kept hurling. Not wildly or recklessly. Not taking refuge in hit and hope.
Their transitioning out of defence retained the precision of Portlaoise a week earlier and the margin had grown by just two when, with a minute of normal time remaining in the first-half, Ross King buried a Canal-end goal after beating Brendan Maher to an Eanna Lyons flick.
Cries of "Laois, Laois, Laois" followed Brennan's men down the tunnel at half-time, the margin a managable four and Tipp, palpably, at odds with themselves.
But a third game in 15 days was always asking more than was fair of the Joe McDonagh Cup winners and their task all but became impossible just after the resumption when the hitherto impressive Aaron Dunphy got the line for an off-the-ball clip across Paudie Maher's knee.
Tipp now had an invitation to go to town on Laois, the aforementioned Maher operating as a free man and Callanan coming out to the 'forty' after 'Bubbles' got the hook.
Ronan Maher nailed two points in a minute to push them nine clear, but the road to Rowland's goal remained heavily policed while the free-taking of Mark Kavanagh and the leadership of Paddy Purcell meant Laois just would not countenance limp surrender.
And so the game petered out essentially. Tipp broadly, palpably at sea, Laois proud enough at least not to throw napkins across their arms. Men like Jack Kelly, Ryan Mullaney and Podge Delaney and Purcell just kept hurling. Kavanagh kept on nailing those frees.
And, at the end, Tipp themselves were reduced to 14, substitute Michael Breen hit with a second yellow after a heavy challenge on Purcell.
Laois had managed just two points from play in that second-half, but the roars of their people were loud and unequivocal. "That should make them chomp at the bit to come back in October, November, whenever it is you're back" said Brennan after.
"That's what brings you back. This is where the big learning is. These days are the cruellest, but they're the ones you learn the most from."
Maybe Noel McGrath caught the mood best. "I don't know did people think it was going to be a cakewalk here for Tipp today" he reflected. "That's not how hurling works. They are proud players, just like we are proud players.
"You want to be playing against teams that put it up to you. That's where you find out about yourself and we learned a lot from this."
SCORERS - Tipperary: J Forde 1-12 (9f, 1-0 pen, 1 '65); S Callanan 1-2; N McGrath 0-3; R Maher, G Browne 0-2 each; A Flynn, P Maher, J McGrath, B Heffernan 0-1 each. Laois: M Kavanagh 0-11f; R King 1-0; A Dunphy, J Kelly 0-2 each; J Lennon, P Purcell, W Dunphy 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY - B Hogan 7, C Barrett 7, J Barry 6, A Flynn 6, B Maher 8, P Maher 8, R Maher 7, N McGrath 8, G Browne 7, D McCormack 7, J O'Dwyer 6, N O'Meara 6, J Forde 8, S Callanan 8, J McGrath 6. Subs: M Breen 5 for Flynn (48), M Kehoe 7 for O'Dwyer (53), J Cahill 6 for Browne (57), B Heffernan for Barry (62), J Morris for O'Meara (67).
LAOIS - E Rowland 7, L Cleere 7, M Whelan 7, J Phelan 6, J Kelly 9, R Mullaney 8, P Delaney 8, J Lennon 7, P Purcell 8, A Dunphy 7, M Kavanagh 7, E Lyons 6, W Dunphy 7, C Dwyer 6, R King 7. Subs: E Killeen 7 for Phelan (half-time), S Maher 6 for Dwyer (44), C Phelan 6 for Lyons (58), S Bergin 6 for W Dunphy (60), E Gaughan for Lennon (67).
Ref - C Lyons (Cork).