Laois' impressive start to 2011 continued on Sunday afternoon, as a battling performance saw them hold Wexford at bay in this entertaining Walsh Cup clash in Rathdowney.
Having started so impressively against UCD the week before, Brendan Fennelly's charges continue to build optimism ahead of their Division 2 campaign as they played some lovely hurling en route to this win. The opening 20 minutes was as good as the team could have hoped for as they raced into a 2-8 to 0-3 lead, with Wexford playing second fiddle to the hosts right across the field.
Despite fading alarmingly either side of half time, Laois showed impressive levels of resolve to hold out against the growing Wexford pressure in the second half. They managed scores when they needed them, and with a clash with Kilkenny up next, it all serves as great preparation for the forthcoming league campaign.
If there was one area of concern for Laois it was their inability to win possession on their own puckouts in the second half, with this one aspect of play Fennelly and his selectors will have to work on in the weeks and months ahead.
Like last week, Willie Hyland had them up and running early on as he fired over two early frees. Toms Waters responded for the visitors after good work from full-forward Keith Burke, but it was all Laois after that, with John Purcell, Willie Hyland and Tommy Fitzgerald stretching the lead out to four.
Jim Berry replied for Wexford from a placed ball, but all the momentum was with Laois, and Willie Hyland's fourth point was followed up by the game's first goal, as Chris Murray pounced on a mistake from Wexford 'keeper Noel Carton to sweep home from close range.
John Brophy kept the pressure up with a point less than a minute later as Laois continued to pile forward, and their assault on the Wexford goal was rewarded once again in the twentieth minute. Sean Bourke cut in a wonderful ball from the left sideline, and Willie Hyland timed his run perfectly to flick the ball to the net from close range, as a shell-shocked Wexford side wondered how they had fallen 11 points behind so early into the game.
To their credit they steeled themselves from that point on and slowly worked their way back into the game. Laois, for their part, allowed their concentration levels to drift, and they allowed Wexford to hit the last four points in the half to reduce the gap to seven at the break, 2-8 to 0-7.
That impressive run from Wexford continued on the restart, as points from Toms Waters, PJ Nolan and Jim Berry (free) had them back to within two scores of Laois, who were struggling to keep their heads above water. With Wexford dominating the aerial battles, possession, and scoring chances, were few and far between for Laois, but when Michael Bermingham fired over a superb long-range point for Laois' first score in 26 minutes, it lifted morale once again.
Willie Hyland added a free moments later, but Wexford re-doubled their efforts after that and were duly rewarded when Eanna Martin fired over a point from play, before Peter Atkinson struck for their goal. Full-forward Keith Burke created the score for corner-forward, as the burly attacker won a long ball ten yards out before laying it off to the awaiting Atkinson, who made no mistake from close range.
With their lead threatened, Laois put their shoulders to the wheel and ground out another point, with Brian Dunne finishing off a battling move. Wexford responded with two points to leave the minimum in it, before a wonderful effort from James Walsh and Willie Hyland's first point from play gave Laois a three point cushion heading into the last five minutes.
Wexford tried desperately to come up with a goal to level the game but could only manage two points, with Willie Hyland responding for Laois on both occasions to secure Laois' second win in as many weeks. Things don't get any easier for Brendan Fennelly's side after this, with his native county Kilkenny awaiting in the semi-final this weekend.
SCORERS - Laois: Willie Hyland 1-10 (0-8 frees, 0-1 '65), Chris Murray 1-0, Michael Bermingham, James Walsh, John Purcell, Tommy Fitzgerald, John Brophy, Brian Dunne 0-1 each; Wexford: Jim Berry 0-7 (all frees), Peter Atkinson 1-1, Eanna Martin, PJ Nolan, Toms Waters 0-2 each, Ciaran Kenny (free), Eamon Furlong 0-1 each
LAOIS: Eoin Reilly; Brian Smith, Brian Campion, Brian Stapleton; Michael Bermingham, Matthew Whelan, Conor Dunne; Sean Bourke, James Walsh; Chris Murray, Owen Houlihan, Willie Hyland; John Purcell, Tommy Fitzgerald, John Brophy. Subs: Joe Fitzpatrick for Bourke (42 mins), Brian Dunne for Houlihan (50 mins), John A Delaney for Bermingham (60 mins)
WEXFORD: Noel Carton; Darren Kehoe, Matthew O'Hanlon, Brendan Hobbs; Richie Kehoe, Ciaran Kenny, Willie Doran; Colm Farrell, Eanna Martin; PJ Nolan, Toms Waters, Stephen Banville; Peter Atkinson, Keith Burke, Jim Berry. Subs: Eamon Furlong for Berry (66 mins)
Referee: David Hughes (Kilkenny)