Thursday 18 January 2018

The splash of the ash

Offaly advance as conditions cause havoc for players. Never has the 'damp squib' metaphor been more appropriate to a game of championship hurling. As players splashed their way through the Portlaoise puddles, it almost made for comical viewing at times. Except that it could have been serious.

Offaly 2-12

Laois 0-8

NEVER has the 'damp squib' metaphor been more appropriate to a game of championship hurling.

As players splashed their way through the Portlaoise puddles, it almost made for comical viewing at times. Except that it could have been serious.

Afterwards, the burning question on everyone's semi-frozen lips wasn't why had the Laois challenge been so utterly toothless? Rather, it was why had two Leinster hurling quarter-finals gone ahead in the first place on such a God-awful day? At the same venue?

Offaly's John McIntyre wasn't making a massive issue of it afterwards, as befits a manager whose team had just won by 10 points.

He also wants to eradicate a culture of blaming everyone and everything else which, he feels, has attached itself to Offaly hurling in recent times. "We don't want any crutches this year," he proclaimed.

But the Tipp native remarked that the pitch was "scarcely playable" and he was surprised that both games in O'Moore Park went ahead.

Laois boss Dinny Cahill was also mystified by the decision to play on. He wasn't consulted beforehand and felt that with pools of water on the pitch, there was a risk of injury.

"As a result, we got a bad injury (Philip Russell hurt his ankle) at the start of the game," he added

While stressing the conditions were the same for both sides, Cahill complained: "That's the reason the league was done away with in October and November, because of conditions like that - and then they allow a championship game to be played in that condition."

The Leinster Council was happy to go on with the show once the match officials were satisfied O'Moore Park was playable. It was felt the pitch hadn't deteriorated during the Westmeath/Dublin tie (they got the curtain-raiser badly wrong, but that's another story!)

Mind you, when you see Dublin forward Kevin Flynn using his hurl in a forlorn attempt to scoop away surface water before their second half, you get a measure of the conditions.

The good news is that nobody drowned, although a corner-forward was in danger of finding himself marooned without a life jacket at the town end.

At least the menacing skies relented around throw-in time for the Offaly/Laois clash, and we braced ourselves for some serious action. And for three minutes, Laois dished out even better than they got.

But they didn't score, and when Gary Hanniffy sent the ball long, corner-back Brian Campion ended up on his backside while Aidan Hanrahan gleefully advanced to fire home.

Cahill wasn't happy with the prelude to that goal, claiming replacement referee Fergus Smith threw the ball in when it should have been a Laois free in. Do matches turn on such moments? Not this one, we venture.

Laois were devoid of attacking menace, with their starting six forwards hitting just one point from play (Sean Lowry).


The Cuddy twins have seen better days while James Hooban, for all his valiant effort, was simply too small to make an impact amid the squelching morass.

To have any chance, they needed James Young at his metronomic best; but he hit more wides (five) than converted frees (four).

Offaly were dominant down the spine, with young Paul Cleary giving nothing away at full-back while Rory Hanniffy marshalled a solid half-back line where Kevin Brady and Declan Tanner also impressed.

Until a late fade-out, long-serving midfielder Gary Hanniffy was the most influential player on show. Hanrahan shimmered early on until his hassled marker, Campion, was called ashore; his influence waned thereafter.

Big Joe Bergin, making his 'summer' baptism in a winter maelstrom, also caught the eye early on with some soaring takes.

Final judgement should be reserved until we see him against tougher opposition on a dry sod, but he accelerated away smartly before applying a cool finish for Offaly's second goal on 22 minutes.

Soon after, another high catch almost led to another goal but Bergin's shot fizzed over. Not to worry: Offaly eased into a half-time lead of 2-7 to 0-4.

The spiteful heavens erupted again on the resumption, so the players are excused for a snooze-inducing second half brightened only by a few dazzling points from Laois duo Joe Phelan and Zane Keenan, and Offaly subs Alan Egan and Dylan Hayden.

Another sub, Brian Whelahan, got the biggest cheer of the day - and that was merely for entering the fray. It was that kind of game.

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