Joe McDonagh Cup Rd 1
By Pat Delaney
WHEN these two met in big games in the ’80s they produced a nine-goal thriller and a year later a six-goal thriller that ended all square, but never a seven-goal thriller.
On Saturday in O’Connor Park they did manage a seven-goal thriller and produced the highest aggregate score ever between the two in 55 meetings.
Naturally the purists will be thrilled with the scoreboard but will the two managers? No doubt defensive work will dominate training this week in both camps but the fans will be pleased if the rest of the competition produces anything like the excitement generated on Saturday.
Three different Laois players had their name on the scoreboard inside the opening four minutes. Pat Purcell set up Eanna Lyons for his first championship point followed by a free from Mark Kavanagh before Cha Dwyer marked his return with a lovely effort from play. Joe Bergin opened the Faithful account from a free in between.
Laois’s Willie Dunphy had a goal chance but the ball skimmed the upright and finished wide. Offaly then had their first wide and in the opening half they only added one more. On the other hand Laois would add another ten.
Six and half minutes in Offaly struck for the game’s opening goal when the Laois defence were slow to react and the excellent Oisin Kelly batted the ball in front of Enda Rowland and the green flag was waving almost immediately. Conor Mahon added a point but that was the last time the centre forward raised a flag until the closing minutes.
Already Laois centre back Ryan Mullaney was beginning to dominate. A long ball into Willie Dunphy saw Laois’s fourth point. Oisin Kelly replied before two wides from Laois before Offaly midfielder David O’Toole Greene fired over a point from play. When Kelly added his second the visitors trailed by four but the gifted Kelly would only add one more score, that in the second half, as the Laois defence tried to stem his influence.
Ross King had his first effort on goal but it sailed wide but when Mark Kavanagh was dragged down he stood up to add point number five. Joe Bergin did likewise at the other end.
The next four scores would all come from the stick of Mark Kavanagh, three frees, and when Offaly tried a short puck out the Rathdowney/Errill man intercepted and split the posts in the 23rd minute that lifted the big Laois following.
When his clubmate Pat Purcell opened his account Laois had turned a four point deficit into a one point lead, all that in eight minutes. Joe Bergin halted the Laois gallop but Mark Kavanagh regained the lead while a long delivery from Ryan Mullaney set up Ross King for his first score. Enda Rowland saw his long range effort drift narrowly wide.
Laois were dominating but hit a few poor wides while Offaly stormed back with points by Conor Gath and Joe Bergin. The closing minutes of a hectic 35 minutes saw Joe Bergin and Mark Kavanagh trade points as the score board read Offaly 1-10 Laois 0-13.
What either manager might suggest to stem the scoring or to drive on was up for debate but there was no doubt among supporters that many more scores would be conceded or, on the positive, more scores would be posted by the attacks.
Within two minutes Ryan Mullaney was again in the thick of the action and he picked out Ross King who edged the visitors back in front. Kevin Martin would have identified the influence of the Laois centre back but the Castletown player only grew in stature.
Niall Houlihan levelled matters after 38 minutes but from the puck out Laois captain Pat Purcell won possession. He weaved past two defenders then hammered the ball past the Offaly keeper.
Joe Bergin pulled a point back from play but again the puck out fell to the visitors. Ross King advanced, picked out Cha Dwyer who beat his marker and fired to the Eoghan Cahill’s left to raise a green flag and the margin was five points.
Offaly hit back with a Joe Bergin point from play before another Offaly attack yielded the game’s fourth goal. After Laois failed to clear their lines Oisin Kelly raced down the wing and gave Enda Rowland no chance.
Then came a controversial yellow card for Cillian Kiely for a wild swing that left Padraig Delaney injured. Laois followers were incensed. Mark Kavanagh hit two more points, the second a beauty of a line ball in the 48th minute leaving the home team trailing by four.
Willie Dunphy and Conor Egan exchanged points and the game was in the balance now. But when Cha Dwyer picked out Eanna Lyons the full forward calmly slotted the ball to the keeper’s left.
Within minutes the home team were back in business. First Joe Bergin pointed a free and when Kiely picked out Conor Mahon he hammered into the Laois net for the game’s sixth goal. Now just two points separated the with 52 minutes on the clock.
Matthew Whelan, in a desperate effort to prevent another goal, suffered a blow to the face and it looked like he might depart the scene. However, after receiving attention and a long delay he resumed.
Joe Bergin next cut the margin to the minimum. Offaly then hit the next two scores but Mark Kavanagh equalised only for Offaly midfielder Kevin Dunne to reclaim the lead in the 61st minute.
Laois substitute Conor Phelan levelled the game again and when Cha Dwyer added another Laois were back in the driving seat. Stephen Bergin replaced his clubmate Willie Dunphy and he wasted no time in making an impact. When a ball broke kindly in front of goal Bergin fired a powerful shot past the home keeper and two minutes of normal time remained.
The two teams were tiring when nine minutes of injury time was announced. The next five minutes saw both sides squander chances but Joe Bergin left a goal separating the sides with six injury time minutes remaining.
Offaly tried desperately but Laois denied them and after an exchange between Ross King and Conor Mahon the three point margin ensured a frantic last three minutes. And when Ross King won possession in front of the stand he edged his side four clear and that brought to an end a scoring feast that was littered with mistakes, great scores, immense tension and excitement.
Laois will now face a stiff test against Antrim in O’Moore Park on Saturday afternoon after the Saffrons handed Kerry a lesson in hurling in their opening game.
LAOIS: Enda Rowland; Donnacha Hartnett, Matthew Whelan, Joe Phelan; Padraig Delaney, Ryan Mullaney, Lee Cleere; John Lennon, Jack Kelly; Cha Dwyer (1-2), Willie Dunphy (0-2), Pat Purcell (1-1); Mark Kavanagh (0-11, 0-8fs, 0-1 sl), Eanna Lyons (1-1), Ross King (0-4).
Subs: Conor Phelan (0-1) for Lennon (48m), Neil Foyle for Lyons(58m), Aaron Dunphy for Kelly (60m), Stephen Bergin (1-0) for Dunphy (65m), Eric Killeen for Phelan (73m)
OFFALY: Eoghan Cahill; Tom Spain, Niall Houlihan (0-1), Paddy Rigney; Colm Gath (0-1), Pat Camon, Ben Connelly; David O’Toole-Greene (0-1), Kevin Dunne (0-1); Oisin Kelly (2-3), Conor Mahon (1-1), Colin Egan (0-1); Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin (0-11, 0-8fs), Cillian Kiely.
Subs: Dermot Shortt for O’Toole-Greene (68m), Conor Langton (0-1)) for Kiely (65m), James Gorman for Dooley (66m)
Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim)