Sunday, February 05, 2023

Laois manager, Willie Maher                        Photo: Paul Dargan

By Barry McEvoy

IT was a tough start to life for Laois manager Willie Maher when his side faced his native Tipperary in his debut league game, and Maher’s men came out the wrong side of a 20-point loss.

A quick start from the Premier set the tone early on and they led by 1-7 to 0-1 in the blink of an eye. To their credit Laois pulled it back a bit in the second half and only for a late flurry the score line was looking reasonably respectable.

There were still positives to take from the game and Maher pointed those out. He spoke on Tipperary’s ability, the performance, the good attitude, injuries and managing the opposition in Semple Stadium.

“We realise Tipperary in that kind of condition and form will do that to teams. I thought they were unbelievably impressive tonight, but our lads didn’t show up for 35 minutes and let Tipperary play the ball around.”

Laois upped their game in the second half and on that he said: “They went toe to toe at times and we were very disappointed with the 1-2 at the end because the lads worked themselves into a decent position.

“From the start we knew that playing teams in Division 1 like this would be a learning day and we’re disappointed to be beaten in the manner we were but at the same time guys stood up and didn’t throw in the towel.

“Thurles was in good condition tonight and the ball was flying around. Tipperary have obviously done a lot of work with Liam and his team and they were really strong. Tipperary in that kind of form could do a lot worse.

“We had a chance for a goal at the end of the first half but unfortunately Martin Phelan missed the pick. It’s a pity we didn’t get in and have a rattle at the goal but every day is a learning day, particularly the big days, and there’s plenty to come.”

Fitzgibbon Cup duties beckon for some members of the panel and Maher spoke on the tough schedule.

“Our playing pool is much smaller (than bigger counties) and we had Fitzgibbon games on Thursday night and the quarter finals next Thursday for five or six of our guys that were playing today, that’s a tough ask getting ready for Waterford again.

“It’s tough for the smaller counties as you could see the physicality and athleticism of Tipperary at the end bringing on players like Mark Kehoe and Jake Morris, top level players.

“We’re working towards something, this is not a short term project, we’re trying to change things and tonight was a line in the sand and we’ll drive on.”

There were a couple of injuries to key players during the game, and Maher spoke on them also.

“We took a chance and emptied the bench with 10 minutes to go but then PJ Scully did his hamstring so he stood in full forward. Any injuries are a big deal to us, but we knew that, this is high level hurling, the physicality, athleticism and the demands of the game are huge.”

Laois showed great determination to stay battling in the second half and refuse to give in, Maher had this to say on that.

“We’ve all been in backs to the wall in situations with different teams over the years and manfully they stood into it. It was an attitude job here tonight to stay composed and stay trying to do the right things but when you’re playing a team with the physicality and hurling ability of Tipperary it’s very difficult to do.

“I’m very proud of the players tonight and it’s just the start of the journey. Let’s move on to next week.”

Finally he spoke on sharing the touchline with his Ballingarry clubmate Liam Cahill and being part of the opposition in Semple Stadium.

“He’s a top fella, I congratulated him afterwards. It’s a unique honour for our parish, we’re a very small club in south Tipperary and we’re delighted to be here tonight, albeit on different sides.

“It’s a strange week for myself, building myself up to play Tipperary. I’ve been coming here (Semple) all my life as a boy and it’s in my blood so it’s difficult but it’s great to share a sideline with Liam and we might do it again.”

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