THREE goals at key times were crucial for Laois as they ended a three year wait for a win in the Leinster Under 21 Football Championship.
Leading by five points at the break under the lights in O’Moore Park thanks to two opportunist goals from excellent 17-year-old corner-forward Evan O’Carroll, Laois led by as many as seven before Offaly mounted an impressive comeback.
Laois’ advantage was down to just one with eight minutes to go and it looked as if the game was slipping away but a fumble by Offaly goalkeeper Mark Langtry under pressure from Evan O’Carroll gifted an opportunity to Kevin McGrath and the Portarlington man made no mistake from close range to give his side the breathing space of a four point lead.
Offaly did get back within one with a second goal in injury-time but it was too late to change the outcome as Laois held on for an impressive win.
Laois did ride their luck at times. Offaly missed a string of scoreable opportunites in the second-half including three very kickable frees while all three of Laois’ goals also came from speculative high balls that caused chaos in the Offaly defence. However the chances still had to be taken and the main difference between the sides was that while Offaly missed plenty, Laois wasted none.
Before throw-in Laois were dealt a blow when Damien O’Connor was forced to withdraw due to injury. O’Connor is the only member of the senior panel on the U-21 team and his absence was definitely a loss for Laois.
Laois were almost caught cold in the opening minute when Offaly captain David Hanlon charged through the defence but with the goal at his mercy, he hesitated allowing a last ditch deflection from a Laois defender.
All the early pressure came from Offaly and two points from frees from Paul McPadden gave them the lead with four minutes on the clock.
Laois however hit back in style after six minute when a hopeful high ball was fisted to the net from close range by Crettyard’s Evan O’Carroll. That score settled Laois and it was quickly followed by a superbly struck ‘45 from Dan Dunne.
Offaly hit the next two points to level the game but Laois then enjoyed their best period as they hit 1-4 without reply to take command of the game.
Points from Padraig McEvoy, Adam Ryan and two from frees from Evan Costello put Laois in control before Evan O’Carroll fisted in his second goal to leave seven between the sides after 23 minutes.
Offaly did reduce the deficit before the break outscoring Laois by tree points to one with two of the scores coming from the hugely impressive Bracknagh’s Peter Cunningham who is a product of Colaiste Iosagain.
Laois’ point came from Evan Costello to leave the score at 2-6 to 0-7 but Costello and Adam Ryan added points early in the second-half to extend the lead back to seven.
However Offaly, led by Cunningham, set about reducing the deficit and in the next nine minutes added four points to just one in reply for Laois.
Points from Kevin McGrath and Paul Kingston briefly stopped the rot for Laois but Offaly hit back with 1-2, two points from Cunningham and a goal from the penalty spot from David Hanlon, to leave just a point between the sides.
Just when they needed it however, Laois added a third goal with O’Carroll again in the midst of the action. He forced an error from goalkeeper Mark Langtry and Kevin McGrath was on hand to slot home the rebound.
Offaly had chances to eat into the lead but a string of wides, three from frees, halted their progress.
Laois defended manfully in the closing stages and entering injury-time still led by four when Offaly’s Ciaran Hurley rattled the back of the net to reduce the gap to the minimum.
However that goal came too late to change the outcome and Laois held on for a morale boosting win. They now face Wicklow at home in the quarter-final.
Scorers: Offaly: Peter Cunningham 0-6 (0-2 frees), Ciaran Hurley 1-1 (0-1 free), Paul McPadden 0-3 (frees), David Hanlon 1-0 (penalty), Stuart Cullen 0-1, Aaron McDonagh 0-1, Barry Cushen 0-1. Laois: Evan O’Carroll 2-0, Kevin McGrath 1-1, Evan Costello 0-4 (frees), Dan Dunne 0-2 (0-1 ’45, 0-1 free), Adam Ryan 0-2, Padraig McEvoy 0-1, Paul Kingston 0-1.
Offaly: Mark Langtry; Eoin Rigney, Declan Hogan, James McPadden; David Hanlon (capt.), Derek Kelly, Philip Foy; Conor McNamee, Eoin Carroll; Stuart Cullen, Peter Cunningham, Aaron McDonagh; Paul McPadden, Ciaran Hurley, Stephen Hannon.
Subs: Joey O’Connor for D Hogan (20 mins), Luke Kelly for C McNamee (25 mins), Barry Cushen for S Hannon (half time), Joe Maher for S Cullen (39 mins), Sean Doyle for P McPadden (50 mins).
Laois: Graham Brody; Mark Dowling, Mark O’Halloran, Stephen Attride; Ciaran Lennon, Padraig McEvoy, Dan Dunne; Adam Ryan, Matthew Campion; Alan Farrell, Liam McGovern, Kevin McGrath; Evan O’Carroll, Evan Costello, Paul Kingston. Subs: Adam Campion for M Dowling (15 mins), Jamie Farrell for A Farrell (50 mins), James Brennan for C Lennon (50 mins), Jason Campion for E O’Carroll (60 mins), Shane Murphy for K McGrath (61 mins). . Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)