Laois U-16 hurlers put in some tremendous performances in the All Ireland blitz in Tipperary on Saturday when they became the first team from the county to ever win a game in the Premier Division and narrowly lost out on bringing home silverware after four energy sapping games in the prestigious competition.
After months of meticulous preparation, a 7.45am bus start from Portlaoise saw them travel to Cahir where they took on Antrim in the opening game and after a tentative start they led by a single point at half time before completely outscoring them in the second half and easing to a 2-8 to 0-4 victory.
With each half only 15 minutes, a good start was essential but after 13 minutes of play they found themselves 0-4 to 0-1 in arrears when Oisin Nolan set up Mark Kavanagh for a fine point and minutes later the same player put Conor Phelan through and the Castletown lad finished a smashing goal. After the break good play by Conor Phelan and Rory McEvoy ended with Eanna Lyons scrambling the ball to the net and from there to the finish Antrim were held scoreless as Mark Kavanagh and John Dwyer landed a brace of points each while Liam O’Connell landed two massive long range frees as well as dominating all of the Ariel duels outfield.
Next up were Galway and with both Laois seniors and minors losing to them in this year’s championship, there was pressure on the young team to exact a measure of revenge. With outstanding side line support, Laois took the game to the underage kingpins. Two points from Mark Kavanagh gave his side the lead and another superb long range free from Liam O’Connell had Laois ahead again. Another special from him was picked out of the back of the Galway net and a Kavanagh free gave them a 1-5 to 0-4 half time lead.
Galway turned over with the wind and shot four unanswered points to level but after Mark Kavanagh had a shot from a penalty saved, he landed a ‘65 to lead again. Then things looked ominous when Galway hit two points to grab the lead with four minutes remaining. It was then that Laois produced their best hurling of the day with the defence shutting up shop, and with midfield on top first Mark Kavanagh levelled and then hit the final three points of the game for a superb victory 1-10 to 0-10.
Laois now had to move venues to take on the host team Tipperary and with points from Joe Carroll, Liam O’Connell and Mark Kavanagh (2) they were well in the game at half time as they trailed by two points 0-6 to 0-4. A goal for Tipp and some excellent point scoring saw the home side finish top of the group with seven points to spare 1-10 to 0-6.
Laois qualified for the Shield Final and had to travel on to Clonmel to take on Wexford. They started magnificently with three Mark Kavanagh points and led midway through the half when they were hit by a Wexford goal and trailed at the break 1-4 to 0-5.
That goal was to prove the decisive score and while Laois battled to the finish, had a penalty saved and were on the wrong end of many decisions they could not bridge the gap and lost a magnificent game 1-9 to 0-8 with the shield and medals going to the Wexford boys.
Credit to the team and management for an outstanding tournament and the large travelling support showed their appreciation with a standing and rapturous ovation for the lads as they departed the park. What a pity that Laois were deprived of the attacking skills of both Andrew Mortimor and Sean Downey ruled out with shoulder injuries but the young development squad have laid down a marker for the future of hurling for the county.
Laois: Steven Kelly (Rosenallis), Shane Fitzpatrick (The Harps), Dinny Cahill (Park Ratheniska), Michael Moran (Ballinakill), Pat Williams (Mountrath), John Dwyer (Clough Ballacolla), Kevin O’Rourke (Ballyfin), Liam O’Connell (Rathdowney Errill), Caolan Murphy (Portlaoise), Martin Phelan (Castletown Sliabh Bloom), Mark Kavanagh (Rathdowney Errill), Oisin Nolan (Park Ratheniska), Rory McEvoy (Abbeyleix), Conor Phelan (Castletown Sl Bloom), Eanna Lyons (Ballyfin). Shane Cahill (Clonad), Brendan Kelly (Rathdowney Errill), Dylan Conroy (Castletown Sl Bloom), Conor Hiney (Shanahoe), Joe Carroll (Mountrath), Cillian Rowney (Ballyfin), Fionn Sinnott (Shanahoe), Sean Downey (Ballinakill), Ned Walton (Abbeyleix), Declan Foyle (Ballinakill), Eoghan Nealon (Portlaoise), Dan Grehan (Mountmellick), Finbar Conway (Clough Ballacolla), Andrew Mortimor (Camross).
Management: Enda Lyons, Jack Nolan, Ollie Hally, John Joe McHugh, Brian Stapleton, Dermot McGill. First Aid: Catherine Williams.