Laois’ season came to a close on Saturday evening after one of the most frantic, hectic, comical and thrilling games O’Moore Park has ever seen.
When Justin McNulty was at the helm of the Laois senior team, the complaint from supporters was that the team were boring. Nobody can level that at them now.
Tomas O Flatharta’s side have their flaws, some of them huge, gaping flaws, but they are tremendous entertainment.
They looked dead and buried at half time here. Having lead by two points after 14 minutes, they failed to score for the rest of the half, as Tipperary went on a 1-9 scoring spree. The visitors lead by ten at half time and should have been further ahead. They were given a standing ovation coming off the field at half time and thoroughly deserved it.
Laois had shown nothing of themselves in the first half, but duly poured everything they had into the second. First James Finn got a goal. Then Conor Meredith. Then David Conway, and Laois had Tipperary on the rack. Conway then fired over an equalizing point and with eight minutes left, Laois looked poised to complete a miraculous escape.
But it wasn’t to be. Padraig McMahon and Conor Meredith were black-carded in the space of three minutes, and Meredith’s dismissal came after Laois had used all six subs, meaning they were down to 14 men.
Tipperary had one last kick in them, and they scored 1-3 in the last five minutes to finally put the seal on a quite remarkable 70 minutes of football.
We’ll start with the positives for Laois, chief among them the character shown by this team. It has been on display plenty of times already this year, but it took a lot of heart to come out after a shocking first half performance and play as they did. They worked some great scores and a lot of young players were given their start this year, which is a good sign.
There are some major problems though. The defending from Laois was simply shocking. They afforded Tipperary four clear-cut goal chances in the opening 14 minutes. Tipperary, when they got on a roll, didn’t have to do anything fancy to get their scores, they just galloped right through the middle of the field, meeting little or no resistance. Too many of the Laois players appear to have little or no interest in defending, particularly in the middle third of the field. The Tipperary half-forward line scored 0-7 from play.
There were vast spaces left in front of a cruelly exposed full-back line, and Tipperary made full use of the welcome mat the Laois defence laid out for them.
They were getting away with it in the opening quarter of an hour though. Tipp opened the scoring with a Conor Sweeney goal after three minutes, but a point from Donie Kingston and a goal from John O’Loughlin had Laois in front soon after.
Michael Quinlivan pointed for Tipperary to level the game, but a Niall Donoher point and a fisted effort from Billy Sheehan had Laois 1-3 to 1-1 up after 14 minutes.Things seemed fine. And then they weren’t.
Sweeney and Quinlivan drew Tipp level, and they just moved through the gear from there. Points began raining in from everywhere, and then in the 25th minute, Sweeney took advantage of a Graham Brody error to strike their second goal.
When their scoring run was brought to an end by the half-time whistle, they took a 2-10 to 1-3 lead to the dressing room.
Laois’ only option was to attack as much as they could in the second half, and James Finn gave them an ideal start with a fine individual goal after two minutes. Colm Begley then had a goal effort saved before excellent work from Donie Kingston saw him set Conor Meredith up for a tap-in.
Tipp responded with three points in a row, but then Laois hit three in a row themselves as the tension continued to build. Philip Austin pointed for Tipperary only for Laois to once again hit the back of the net, David Conway supplying the finish this time.
Evan Costello and Conway then pointed to see Laois draw level with eight minutes to go, and the despair of half time was now replaced with delerium.
That was as good as it got, however, as the black cards soon arrived, and Tipp, like a good middle distance runner, hade one last kick left in the legs to see them across the finish line.
SCORERS - Laois: Donie Kingston 0-4 (0-3 frees), David Conway 1-1, James Finn, Conor Meredith, John O’Loughlin 1-0 each, Billy Sheehan, Niall Donoher, MJ Tierney (45), Evan Costello 0-1 each. Tipperary: Conor Sweeney 2-2 (0-1 free), Barry Grogan 1-3 (0-1 free), Philip Austin 0-4, Michael Quinlivan 0-3, Colin O’Riordan, Brian Fox 0-2 each, Peter Acheson 0-1.
LAOIS: Graham Brody; Padraig McMahon, Paul Begley, Peter O’Leary; Darren Strong, Robbie Kehoe, Colm Begley; Kevin Meaney, John O’Loughlin; Conor Meredith, Billy Sheehan, Niall Donoher; Ross Munnelly, Donie Kingston, Damien O’Connor. Subs: James Finn for Munnelly (28 mins - injured), David Conway for O’Connor (half time), Stephen Attride for Meaney (half time), MJ Tierney for Kehoe (44 mins - BC), Evan Costello for C Begley (52 mins - injured), Kevin Meaney for McMahon (65 mins - BC)
TIPPERARY: Paul Fitzgerald; Ger Mulhair, Paddy Codd, Ciaran McDonald; Colin O’Riordan, Robbie Kiely, John Coghlan; Steven O’Brien, George Hannigan; Philip Austin, Peter Acheson, Brian Fox; Conor Sweeney, Michael Quinlivan, Barry Grogan. Subs: Ian Fahey for Mulhair (49 mins), Colman Kennedy for Austin (69 mins), Brian Mulvihill for Grogan (72 mins)
Referee: David Gough (Meath)