The Laois players celebrate at the final whistle. Pic: Alf Harvey/HRPhoto.ie
Laois came through an epic extra time showdown with Kerry to secure their NHL Division 1 status at O'Moore Park on Saturday night.
The game could hardly have started in a more dramatic fashion, with both teams pointing inside two minutes before Laois were reduced to 14 men. Neil Foyle was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball clash with Tom Murnane, with the home side facing into practically the entire game at a numerical disadvantage.
If they were worried they didn't show it, as they hit the next three points through Leigh Bergin, Ross King and Paddy Purcell to surge ahead. Kerry responded through Patrick Kelly and Jack Goulding, before King got his second for Laois, from a free.
With the wind at their backs, Laois went three ahead, but that lead was soon wiped out, however, when Jordan Conway fielded a high ball, turned his marker and fired past Enda Rowland for a Kerry goal, 1-4 to 0-7 now after 18 minutes.
The Laois response was impressive, as Paddy Purcell and Ross King (2) sent them in front once more, before Cha Dwyer's long range free was fumbled to the net by Kerry's Bryan Murphy.
Buoyed by that fortuitous goal, Laois piled on the pressure, and King, John Lennon and Ryan Mullaney all pointed to see them go eight in front. They couldn't hold that lead to the break though, as Patrick Kelly lashed a loose ball in the Laois penalty area to the net. That meant Laois were just five up at the break, 1-12 to 2-6.
Laois cancelled out that goal by rattling off three points without reply when play resumed, and they were comfortable for most of the half until Kerry came roaring back. Mikey Boyle rattled the net with a 21 yard free and then, with the last act of the game, Laois 'keeper Enda Rowland fumbled the ball over his own line to level the scores at 4-14 to 1-23, and extra time was needed.
Captain Ross King came to the fore in the extra time for Laois, hitting four points to help his side into a three point lead at the midway point.
Kerry got back level late on, but Aidan Corby and Paddy Purcell struck for Laois to see them to a famous win.
SCORERS - Laois: Ross King 0-13 (7f), Willie Dunphy 0-3 (1 sl), Patrick Purcell 0-3, Cha Dwyer 1-0f, Stephen Maher 0-2, Leigh Bergin, Ryan Mullaney, Cha Dwyer, Aidan Corby, Enda Rowland (f), Paddy Whelan, John Lennon, Liam O'Connell, Ciaran Collier 0-1 each.
Kerry: Padraig Boyle 2-3 (1-2f), Patrick Kelly 1-4, Colum Harty 0-5, Shane Nolan 0-4 (3f), Jordan Conway 1-0, Daniel Collins, Jack Goulding, John Buckley, Keith Carmody 0-1 each
LAOIS - Enda Rowland; Lee Cleere, Leigh Bergin, Cahir Healy; Liam O'Connell, Cha Dwyer, Ryan Mullaney; Ross King, Patrick Purcell; Cian Taylor, John Lennon, Ben Conroy; Willie Dunphy, Neil Foyle, Stephen Maher. Reps - Ciaran Collier for O'Connell (42), Aaron Dunphy for Conroy (57), Patrick Whelan for Lennon (63), Sean Downey for Mullaney (67), A Corby for Cleere (70 mins), Stephen Bergin for Maher (72), Eanna Lyons for Dunphy (78, inj), Stephen Maher for Taylor (83), Jack Kelly for King (93, inj)
KERRY - Martin Stackpoole; James O'Connor, Tom Murnane, Sean Weir; Daniel Collins, Bryan Murphy, Darren Dineen; Paudie O'Connor, John Buckley; Shane Nolan, Patrick Kelly, Michael O'Leary; Jordan Conway, Padraig Boyle, Jack Goulding. Reps - Mikey Boyle for Goulding (41), Colum Harty for O'Leary (46), Keith Carmody for Nolan (54), Maurice O'Connor for Conway (56), Philip Lucid for M O'Connor (87)
Ref - Paud O'Dwyer (Carlow)