Wednesday 21 August 2019

Whelan: 'Only players and management believed we could pull this off'

Laois's Matthew Whelan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Laois's Matthew Whelan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

He's 151 games into his Laois career but Matthew Whelan had no problem waiting on Sunday's historic win over Dublin for what he described as the "best moment" of his career.

A win against the head against a Dublin team that had gone toe to toe with some of hurling aristocrats was a day worth waiting for as Eddie Brennan's men struck a blow for the game's mid-ranked counties.

"It's unbelievable," said the Borris-in-Ossory/Kilcotton club man after their breakthrough success.

"A lot of people had us wrote off from last weekend when we were winning the Joe McDonagh. We went out this week with a point to prove and there was a lot of work I suppose from bringing down ourselves from winning a big national final in Croke Park but, in fairness to the management and the boys, we set our target and drove through it. Beating Dublin was a huge achievement for us. We have to gladly go through that again now next week for Tipperary."

To give more context to what Laois have achieved, the county have reached their first All-Ireland quarter-final since 1979, while last year's McDonagh Cup finalists, Carlow and Westmeath, were beaten by 24 and 11 points respectively in the preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final.

"It was tough going but we didn't want to use it as a crutch because you're only judged on your last performance," Whelan said of the week-long turnaround from their McDonagh Cup final to last Sunday's game.

"The county was on a high last week. What was the use in going out and losing by 15 points? So the onus was on us to get ourselves completely right for it and build ourselves up again. It worked out for us."

And Whelan insisted that Laois had shown the potential to deliver a shock like this over the years.

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"I suppose in previous performances over the last decade or so, we had our chances and we had the lead in different games against Galway and Limerick, let it slip in the second half for one reason or another but in fairness the forwards today stuck with it, they worked very hard. With five men up there, they delivered. Going level it could have gone bad for us but we responded and we saw the game out. We managed it like we were doing all along.

"We went in at half-time and the crowd got behind us. It's worth a few points to us, especially when your legs are sapped from you the last 10, 15 minutes. I suppose we showed great discipline. When everyone was flagging with tiredness, just proud of our lads and proud of the management.

"I think it's the best moment yeah. Look, beating a top-tier team that's an All-Ireland contender in my mind, it's a special one. Beating Offaly a couple of years ago comes to mind as well, special moments. I just think that no one gave us a chance today, only the players that were in the circle and the management. I think that was all that really truly believed we could pull this off."

And he believes this can do wonders for the game in a county that sometimes feels left behind.

"Yeah, we're a proud and traditional hurling county and we feel we kind of a little bit forgotten about. I suppose now we can get behind a team and we can be proud and stick our chests out. We can go back up to Croke Park again. I suppose it all happened getting to the Joe McDonagh final, a huge Laois crowd went up. The hurling is on a wave of momentum in the county now and long may it last."

Laois now face their third game in as many weekends. Legs will he heavy and minds tired but for Whelan it's a nice problem to have.

"It's in Croke Park and the stakes are high. That's the biggest stage of them all, it's the biggest stage that any of us have played in. It's up to us to be adjusted and be adapted and ready to go because it'll come thick and fast. A quick turnaround, only another week again but I suppose we've proven we can turn around in a short space of time so we'll look forward to the challenge."

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