A Laois side which manager Justin McNulty described after the game as ‘experimental’ and who looked to be in the middle of a heavy training programme opened their 2013 season with a three point defeat to Offaly on Sunday in O’Connor Park.
Laois struggled in the first-half and were a step slower than their opponents for the first 40 minutes of the encounter. They were lucky to be within four at the break and had Offaly captain Niall McNamee converted a penalty just after half-time, the game would have been over as a contest.
Laois to their credit did battle their way back into the game and the introduction of some more established players brought a better balance to the side. As a result the performance greatly improved and they restricted Offaly to just two points in the last 30 minutes while adding five to their own total.
It is always difficult to read much if anything into O’Byrne Cup games primarily because the focus is on the league and teams are at very different stages in their preparations. Offaly played in, and won, a three county tournament with Meath and Louth before Christmas and that extra preparation was evident in the first half as they hit the ground running.
While the difference in the stage of preparation is to be expected and that ground can be made up quickly, the sloppiness Laois showed at times is a far greater concern. Four times in the game Laois players kicked frees directly to the opposition. Two of those miscues were close to their own goal which lead to 1-1 for Offaly.
On the day Laois only managed to score 1-2 from play and they had the accurate free taking of MJ Tierney to thank for keeping them in contention. Tierney was by far the most impressive of Laois’ starting forwards as he covered considerable ground throughout the game. Ross Munnelly added a spark after his introduction while moving Kevin Meaney to midfield gave Laois a better attacking platform.
One of Laois’ more impressive performers on the day was the imposing Denis Booth in the full-back line and on his return The Heath player gave his chances of being on the panel this year a sizeable boost.
Overall however Laois were off the pace in the opening half and by the 18th minute they were 0-5 to 0-1 behind and only a goal against the run of play from another returning player, David Murphy, after 20 minutes kept them in contention.
MJ Tierney had scored Laois’ first point after three minutes cancelling out an early point from Matthew Mitchell but Offaly hit the next four scores, while also hitting five wides, before Murphy struck for Laois’ goal.
A point from distance from Paul Begley levelled matters after 22 minutes but two points from Niall McNamee and a goal from Paul McPadden to just a point in reply for Laois from a free from Tierney left the visitors trailing 1-7 to 1-3 at the break.
Offaly picked up where they left off after the restart and extended their lead with a point from a free from Niall McNamee. The Offaly captain was in fine form on the day finishing with eight points however he blasted a penalty wide after 40 minutes which would have put Offaly eight points clear and set them on course for an easy win.
He did kick a point soon after to extend the lead to six but Laois changed tactics in the second half effectively doubled covered McNamee in the second half which curbed his influence and took the sting out of Offaly’s attacking threat. At the other end Laois were begining to find a rhythm and only a fine save from Alan Mulhall denied Damien O’Connor a goal which could easily have swung the balance of the game in the visitors’ favour.
Two points from MJ Tierney, one from a free, one a fine strike from distance, did get Laois back within four but Offaly responded with their two final scores of the game to leave six between the sides again.
After struggling for large periods of the game, Laois pushed forward with greater confidence in the last ten minutes and points from Ross Munnelly (1) and MJ Tierney (2) all from frees got them back within a score with time ticking down.
Unfortunately for Laois their fightback ran out of steam as Offaly held on for a confidence boosting win.