After an encouraging opening to the game where they lead briefly and went toe to toe with Clare, Laois fell away in the heat of Cusack Park in Ennis last Saturday eventually losing out by 20 points.
All Ireland Hurling Qualifiers
The final scoreline was harsh on Cheddar Plunkett’s side who fought hard from start to finish but when the home side went through the gears, Laois struggled to match them and the result was a foregone conclusion by the early stages of the second-half.
Clare never relented and piled on the scores in the closing stages with their goal coming with just a minute remaining in the encounter and on their performance on Saturday they have to be considered contenders for the All Ireland Championship.
For Laois it was a heartbreaking end to their campaign but while there will be initial disappointment at the result, when that passes the players and management can look back with pride on a year where they gained promotion, won two championship games and pushed a strong Galway side all the way in O’Moore Park.
However while there has been massive progress made in 2013 by Laois, Saturday showed they still have a distance to go to get right in with the big boys in the All Ireland Championship.
There was no lack of effort from Laois but the difference between a side who ply their trade in Division 1A and a side who just gained promotion from Division 2A was evident.
They weren’t helped by the fact that Clare were awarded frees far easier and Colin Ryan duly split the posts with metronomic regularity. As is often the case, the referee favoured the ‘bigger’ side which proved hugely frustrating for Laois players, management and supporters alike.
Clare opened the scoring just seconds after the throw-in when Brendan Bugler launched over a long range point but Laois countered instantly with John Brophy winning the puck-out and slotting the ball over the bar.
Laois lined up with Cahir Healy as centre-back and Matthew Whelan sweeping with Brian Dunne also dropping into a deeper position in the hopes of stifling Clare’s attacking threat.
Zane Keenan put Laois ahead with two minutes on the clock but that was as good as it got for the visitors as Clare through John Conlon and Peter Duggan (2) edged their side two points clear with just four minutes on the clock.
Two more well taken points from Zane Keenan were cancelled out by Colin Ryan and Colm Gavin and after a frantic opening eight minutes Clare were just two points ahead at 0-6 to 0-4.
However as the game settled, Clare gained the upper hand and they hit a purple patch scoring seven points in eight minutes to take control of proceedings.
Laois showed their battling qualities and they brought Clare’s scoring run to an end holding them scoreless from the 19th to the 27th minute.
In the final ten minutes of the half Laois matched Clare score for score with Stephen Maher hitting three points with Willie Hyland hitting the fourth.
Despite those scores, Laois still trailed by 0-17 to 0-8 at half-time but they came out strongly after half-time and kept pace with Clare with points from Stephen Maher and PJ Scully cancelling out scores from Darach Honan and Patrick O’Connor.
Unfortunately for Laois, Clare went on another scoring run as they did in the first-half rattling off six unanswered points to put the game away with 20 minutes remaining building a 0-25 to 0-10 lead.
Laois to their credit never threw in the towel and scores from Willie Hyland (2), Zane Keenan and Stephen Maher matched points for Clare from Padraic Collins (2), Peter Duggan and Laim Markham to maintain the gap at 15 entering the final minutes.
Laois had given their all for the entire game but they tired in the end and Clare went for the jugular scoring 1-3 in the last five minutes with the goal coming from Shane O’Donnel who became Clare’s fourteenth scorer on the day.
Impressive substitute PJ Scully had the final say of the game for Laois with a well taken point to leave 20 points between the sides.
It was aharsh result for Laois and not one that reflected their efforts on the day or over the course of the year but 2013 should not be remembered for this game, rather the progress that was made in re-establishing Laois on the hurling stage.
Scorers: Clare: Colin Ryan 0-10 (0-7f, 0-2 ‘65); Peter Duggan 0-4; Darach Honan 0-3; Shane O’Donnell 1-0; Padraic Collins 0-2; Conor McGrath 0-2; Tony Kelly 0-2; Patrick O’Connor 0-2; David McInerney 0-1; Brendan Bugler 0-1; Patrick Donnellan 0-1; Colm Gavin 0-1; Liam Markham 0-1; John Conlon 0-1.
Laois: Stephen Maher 0-5 (0-3f); Zane Keenan 0-4; Willie Hyland 0-3; PJ Scully 0-2; John Brophy 0-1
Clare: Patrick Kelly; Domhnall O’Donovan, David McInerney, Cian Dillon; Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnellan; Colm Gavin, Colin Ryan; John Conlon, Tony Kelly, Peter Duggan; Padraic Collins, Darach Honan, Conor McGrath. Subs: Shane O’Donnell for Darach Honan (41mins), Aaron Cunningham for John Conlon (52mins), Liam Markham for Colm Gavin (54mins), Seadna Morey for Brendan Bugler (57mins), Jonathan Clancy for Colin Ryan (60mins)
Laois: Eoin Reilly; John A Delaney, Darren Maher, Brian Stapleton; Joe Fitzpatrick, Matthew Whelan, Gearoid Burke; Cahir Healy, James Walsh; Stephen Maher, Zane Keenan, Tommy Fitzgerald; John Brophy, Willie Hyland, Brian Dunne. Subs: PJ Scully for John Brophy (23mins), Conor Dunne for James Walsh (33mins), Bill Duggan for Brian Dunne (43mins), Ben Conroy for Tommy Fitzgerald (60mins), Andrew Collier for Cahir Healy (60mins)
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)