What a game. Laois U-21 hurlers ripped up the form book on Wednesday night with a stunning four point victory over Dublin, the county’s first win at the grade in ten years.
Leinster U-21 Hurling Championship
Four points barely did them justice too, as they were superb on the night, and but for a saved penalty and a couple of squandered goal chances, they could have had the game wrapped up long before the dramatic, frantic finale.
Brendan Reddin’s late goal was the clincher, and it capped off a remarkable turnaround for Laois hurling in the space of five days. With the seniors having surrendered meekly to Dublon the Saturday before, the U-21s looked like a team which had promised themselves beforehand they would not be broken like that. They tore into Dublin, and after a shaky start, settled into the game and were the better side for much of it.
The outpouring of emotion at the final whistle told it’s own story, as the joy, pride and relief at winning game flooded out. Dublin were reigning Leinster minor and U-21 Leinster champions, they had ambitions which stretched much further than this game, but Laois halted them in their tracks.
On the night, there were any number of heros for Laois. Willie Dunphy was outstanding in the forward line, as was Stephen Maher and Ben Reddin when introduced. Padraig Lawlor worked like a demon and Neil Foyle really stood up to the plate when Laois were under pressure.
The midfield pairing of David Freeman and Barry Dunne took their time to settle, but once they did they were the dominant force, with Freeman in particular outstanding. Eoin Fleming was calm and controlled between the posts, and the back six were superb as a unit too, pressuring Dublin througout the game.
Thge reailty, of course, is that this was still only a quarter-final. The significance of the victory will be lost if a repeat performance isn’t delivered against Carlow in a week’s time. That is the priority now, to come down off this victory and settle minds on the next game only, as it will be easy for imaginations to run wild after a win like this.
Dublin had drawn first blood, with their captain Sean McGrath pointing a free inside of a minute. The Laois response was swift, with Stephen Maher pointing soon after, and that set the tone for a nip and tuck first half. Dublin were the more impressive side early on, and at times looked like they were going to overpower Laois. On a few occasions they had players lining up to put the ball over the bar, and Tony Doran’s charges were taking their time to settle in.
Once they did they match Dublin well, although the Dubs lead throughout the half. Laois had a couple of chances to go ahead themselves, one when Willie Dunphy was blown for overcarrying the ball when he had men outside, while there was also a penalty saved from Stephen Maher’s penalty, as Dublin lead 0-10 to 0-8 at the break.
When Dublin pointed twice early in the second half, either side of Stephen Maher ‘65, you wondered if they were ready to pull clear for the victory they were expected to get, but Laois only grew stronger as the game went on. Even when Dublin moved four clear with ten minutes gone in the half, there was always the sense Laois would do something, and then they did. Stephen Maher won a puckout and ran at the Dublin defence, before then offloading to Neil Foyle, who thundered a shot into the top corner.
Two more points from Maher had Laois level, before Ross King, introduced for hir older brother Darren, swung the ball over the bar with his first touch to give Laois the lead.
Dublin showed why they were Leinster champions then, as they steeled themselves and twice came back to level the game. With normal time just finishing, it looked like extra time was calling. It wasn’t needed though.
The imperious Maher again caused havoc in the Dublin defence, setting Neil Foyle up 45 yards out for him to drill over a point. Less than a minute later, TJ Lawlor then broke the ball down to Ben Reddin, and his neat finish capped a great win.
SCORERS - Laois: Stephen Maher 0-8 (two frees, three 65s), Neil Foyle 1-1, Willie Dunphy 0-3, Brendan Reddin 1-0, Ross King, Darren King, David Freeman 0-1 each; Dublin: Sean McGrath 0-7 (six frees), John Hetherton, Eamon Dillon, Stephen O’Connor 0-2 each, Danny Sutcliffe, Mark Schutte, Thomas Connelly 0-1
LAOIS: Eoin Fleming; Pakie Flynn, Gearoid Burke, Johnny Finane; Jim Fitzpatrick, Adrian Phelan, Nathan Unwin; David Freeman, Barry Dunne; Paddy Whelan, Padraig Lawlor, Stephen Maher; Willie Dunphy, Neil Foyle, Darren King. Subs: Ben Reddin for Whelan (19 mins), Ross King for Lawlor (blood sub, 47 to 50 mins), Ross King for D King (51 mins), TJ Lawlor for P Lawlor (59 mins)
DUBLIN: Ger McManus; Conor Murphy, Bill O’Carroll, Jack Doughan; Chris Crummey, Danny Sutcliffe, Cillian Moffat; Glenn Whelan, Stephen O’Connor; John Hetherton, Neamhan O’Riordan, Mark Schutte; Eamon Dillon, Sean McGrath, Thomas Connelly. Subs: Emmet McKenna for O’Carroll (26 mins - injured), Odhran O’Maoileidigh for Crummey (48 mins), Niall Ryan for Connelly (48 mins), Peter Elliott for Whelan (57 mins)
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)