Sport Hurling

Thursday 23 November 2017

Cyril Farrell: Tough Laois test will do Tribesmen the power of good

JOB done, move on. In O'Moore Park, Galway got over the line and that was all that mattered. And Laois might just have done them a massive favour by being as competitive as they were in an absorbing contest in Portlaoise.

On the evidence of the last few years, this could have been a stroll for Galway and that's the last thing they'd have wanted going into a Leinster final against likely opponents Kilkenny.

But Laois produced a display that proved their successful league was no flash in the pan. They were excellently organised and came with a plan that guaranteed respectability but the application of the players ensured this was a battle for the majority of the game.

Seamus Plunkett's plan was simple but well executed. They essentially played with just four forwards, withdrawing two more deep. That congested the space in front of goal in a defence that was brilliantly led by Matthew Whelan at centre-back and, with scores from the likes of Zane Keenan and Tommy Fitzgerald, they took a deserved one-point lead in at the break.


There was plenty of talk about where Joe Canning would be deployed last week and he split his time between the full-forward line and further out the field. In the first half he chipped in with some important scores that were needed after Laois built up a 0-4 to no score lead and in the second half roamed further out the field. He finished with 11 points to his name, emphasising his importance to the team.

As the second half wore on, you felt Galway were getting more and more comfortable. And while Fitzgerald's goal suggested we were in for a massive shock, I still thought Galway's experience would get them out of trouble and their immediate reply ensured they would jump this hurdle.

By getting tested, Galway will improve much more than they would have had they won at a canter.

They'll face a much different test in the Leinster final where either Dublin or Kilkenny will go man for man and the short puck-out option, that was available to them so many times yesterday due to Laois dropping deep, just won't be there.

They'll need to improve in every area but the fact that they know they can get to the required level will give them confidence.

For Laois, it was another shot in the arm and proof that with the required application in terms of preparation, there are enough good hurlers in the county to make them competitive. Huge credit has to go to Plunkett and his team for their display yesterday.

The underage scene has provided some positive results and now there's a senior team of which people are proud. They were roared off the field at half-time and supporters applauded them at the final whistle too.

They'll be a nuisance for plenty of teams in the back door.

On Saturday night, Dublin's replay with Wexford seemed to be decided by the sending-off of Andrew Shore less than 10 minutes in. In fairness to Dublin, they used the extra man excellently with Peter Kelly performing what can be a difficult role well.

Wexford were facing an uphill battle from there and it looked to be done and dusted from early as they were denied any chance to build on the marked improvement they had showed in the drawn game from their meeting in the league.

But perhaps the biggest improvement of all came from the layout of the Dublin team.

Conal Keaney was back in the forwards with Liam Rushe at centre-back.

The inclusion of Stephen Hiney and Paul Ryan was also important and Anthony Daly's team look much more settled and balanced. There's a quick turnaround to taking on Kilkenny and they'll need to be operating at optimum level for the Cats who might be smarting a little bit after Offaly's brave show.

Conceding four goals just isn't how Kilkenny have gone about their business over the last few years.

Dublin have been warned.

Irish Independent

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