Laois senior hurlers started Brendan Fennelly's reign as manager in encouraging style on Sunday, as a strong finish to the game saw them oust UCD in an entertaining Walsh Cup clash at Rathdowney.
There can't have been too many Laois fans heading to Kelly Daly Park on Sunday expecting to see a team with barely two weeks of training behind them hit 24 points, but those in attendance were treated to a very entertaining game. It was a performance full of positives for Laois, as Fennelly got the chance to blood some new players, while the older heads on the panel showed they had not been adversely affected by the winter break.
Of the 15 players who lined out on Sunday, only seven started against Dublin during last year's Leinster championship, so to that end it was a useful run-out for some of the players trying to force their way into the reckoning. Brian Smith, Sean Bourke, Michael Bermingham and Chris Murray, who have limited experience at this level, were all given a chance to impress, and there was certainly enough to suggest they have more to offer. John Purcell's continued improvement was highlighted also, with the Rathdowney-Errill man hitting three fine points from play as he picked up from where he left off against O'Loughlin Gaels last year.
Willie Hyland set the tone early on when he pointed two wonderful long range frees, and Laois remained on the front foot throughout the first half, taking an eight point advantage in at the break, 0-13 to 0-5. UCD came back strongly in the second half as Laois lost their way a bit, but they showed impressive resolve in the closing stages to hit five unanswered points and claim a fully deserved victory.
SCORERS - Laois: Willie Hyland 0-11 (nine frees), Matthe Whelan (all frees), John Purcell, John Brophy 0-3 each, Sean Bourke 0-2, James Walsh, Tommy Fitzgerald 0-1 each; UCD: Conor Allis 0-8 (three frees, three 65s), Walter Walsh 1-2, James Foley 1-0, Noel McGrath 0-2, David O'Connor, Kevin O'Loughlin 0-1 each
LAOIS: Paddy Mullaney; Brian Smith, Brian Campion, Brian Stapleton; Michael Bermingham, Matthew Whelan, Conor Dunne; Sean Bourke, James Walsh; Chris Murray, Owen Houlihan, Willie Hyland; John Purcell, Tommy Fitzgerald, John Brophy. Subs: Brian Dunne for Murray (50 mins), Joe Fitzpatrick for Bermingham (60 mins), Andrew Collier for Houlihan (70 mins)
UCD: Michael O'Sullivan; John Doyle, Sean Cummins, Oisn Gough; Neal Prendergast, Eoin O'Shea, Shane Norton; Cian McBride, Fergus Hannon; Conor Allis, Noel McGrath, James Foley; Walter Walsh, Keith Hogan, David O'Connor. Subs: Kevin O'Loughlin for Hannon (half time)
Referee: Sean Cleere (Kilkenny)