Laois senior footballers signed off their championship preparations with a two point win over Offaly last Friday night in Mountmellick.
The game was organised as part of the official opening of the Mountmellick club house, but the story of the game for Laois GAA supporters was the return to action of Padraig McMahon, who is back from a round-the-world trip.
The Ballyroan Abbey man played the second half of the game and looked sharp for someone who hasn’t kicked a ball competitively since the Laois IFC final late last year. His return comes as a huge boost to Justin McNult2y and his management team, who struggled for defensive cover throughout the league.
Overall it was an understrength Laois team which took to the field, with Brendan Quigley, John O’Loughlin, Padriag Clancy and Cahir Healy just some of the regulars who didn’t feature. Of those that did start, Kevin Meaney looked comfortable in his return to midfield, where he was partnered by James Finn. Laois also worked a lot of short kickouts, and it looks as though it could be a tactic they try to use against Longford.
It was the proverbial game of two halves from Laois also, as they dominated most of the first half when playing with the wind, but struggled in the second, when Offaly outscored them by two points.
Two early points from Scott Conroy and MJ Tierney had given Laois the ideal start, with Offaly’s only resistance coming from former Laois footballer Mark Dunne, who started at cente-forward. Gary Walsh and Ken Casey traded points from frees before Laois took a firm grip on proceedings, as they hit the next seven points without reply.
Tierney started that run with a free, before adding two more in quick succession, one of which came from play off his right foot. With his confidence high, he then swung over a 45 after Gary Walsh’s shot for a goal was well saved by Alan Mulhall. Further scores from David Conway, Walsh and Conor Boyle pushed Laois into a 0-10 to 0-2 lead, and all looked lost for an Offaly side which was struggling to create any decent scoring chances.
That all changed five minutes before the break when John Maloney came up from the back to score a superb point from 40 yards out. Mark Dunne hit two more either side of a Ken Casey free, and that late scoring spree left Offaly just four back, 0-10 to 0-6, at half time.
Ken Casey reduced that further three minutes into the second half and that set the tone for a closely fought second half, with Casey in particular catching the eye. Laois looked to have quelled any Offaly uprising by hitting two points in the space of a minute to pull five clear, but Casey came to the fore after that.
He scored a 45, a superb point from play from the right wing and then popped over a long range free to put two between the teams, but unfortunately for Offaly, they couldn’t get much closer than that. Every time they tried to close the gap further, Laois managed to come up with a score to stay ahead, and Billy Sheehan’s late score finally settled the game as a two point win for Laois.
SCORERS – Laois: MJ Tierney 0-7 (four frees, one 45), Scott Conroy, Gary Walsh (one free) 0-2 each, David Conway, Colm Kelly, Billy Sheehan, Darren Strong, Conor Boyle; Offaly: Ken Casey 0-6 (three frees, one 45), Mark Dunne 0-4, John Maloney 0-2, Ross Brady, Anton Sullivan 0-1
LAOIS: Eoin Culliton; Liam Kealy, Kieran Lillis, Mark Timmons; Darren Strong, Shane Julian, Conor Boyle; Kevin Meaney, James Finn; MJ Tierney, Billy Sheehan, Scott Conroy; Colm Kelly, Gary Walsh, David Conway. Subs: John Dunphy for Culliton (half time), Padraig McMahon for Kealy (half time), Jamie Kavanagh for Boyle (45 mins), Colm Munnelly for Strong (47 mins), Damien O’Connor for Conroy (56 mins), Arnie Mahon for Tierney (65 mins)
OFFALY: Alan Mulhall; Eoin Rigney, Richie Dalton, Sean Pender; Brian Darby, John Malone, Shane Sullivan; Niall Smith, Alan McNamee; Derek Kelly, Mark Dunne, David Hanlon; Anton Sullivan, John Reynolds, Ken Casey. Subs: Ross Brady for McNamee (52 mins), Bernard Allen for Reynolds (53 mins)