Joe McDonagh Cup: Laois outlast Offaly in thriller
JOE MCDONAGH CUP
LAOIS 4-22 OFFALY 3-21
By Kevin Egan at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park
Laois struck a major blow in the race to win the 2019 Joe McDonagh cup this evening as they outlasted Offaly in a breathtaking midlands derby at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, eventually making their control of the battle for possession count in the latter stages of the contest.
Substitute Stephen Bergin struck the game’s seventh and most significant goal in the 69th minute to give Laois a decisive lead that they retained through ten minutes of injury time.
From an analytical point of view, Eddie Brennan’s side should have been out of sight at that stage. They shot 17 wides in total, 11 in the first half, wreaking havoc on the Offaly puckout throughout the game. The Laois half back line of Padraig Delaney, Ryan Mullaney and Lee Cleere were imperious under the long ball, which allowed Laois to push up and exert huge pressure on Eoghan Cahill’s shorter restarts. Three points came from turnovers on short Offaly puckouts, which was a significant cushion going into the latter stages of the game.
It meant that the Laois attack had plenty of ball to work with and they racked up 13 points in the first half, though 11 wides and two shots dropped short meant that Offaly were able to draw level by half time. The other factor in Offaly’s parity was the form of Oisín Kelly, who fired in an early goal and added two superb points to help Offaly to a 1-10 interval tally.
Outside of Kelly, the Laois backs were largely in control of their direct opponents, and this continued after the break, when the visiting side finally started to convert their possession into scores.
Despite now having to shoot into the setting sun that beamed across Tullamore, Ross King got Laois out to a great start with the opening score and the O’Moore County quickly followed up with a Paddy Purcell shot that rifled across Eoghan Cahill and into the bottom corner. Joe Bergin’s first point from play came from the next attack but Laois soon added a second goal, Charles Dwyer the scorer after King sneaked in to intercept a Ben Conneely pass.
Again Bergin pointed in response, then Offaly scored a turnover goal of their own when Conor Mahon earned possession in the left corner, and he fed Shane Dooley, who in turn played in Kelly. That left just a point between the sides, but Laois came again with a run of scores to go six clear – Eanna Lyons the goalscorer after Mark Kavanagh gracefully cut over a sideline ball and Dwyer returned a short restart with interest.
This time the Offaly reply was emphatic, and it looked as if it might be decisive as they shot 1-4 without reply. Conor Mahon sprinted through the heart of the defence and picked out the top corner from 12 metres out for the crucial score, but much like their neighbours, the Faithful county failed to shut up shop defensively for any length of time, and once Laois settled with excellent scores from Kavanagh and Conor Phelan, it was clear that this contest was going to come down to one or two key moments.
In the end, there were two. A high ball into the Offaly square broke to Stephen Bergin and he slammed the ball past Cahill from close range, then in added time Joe Bergin fielded the ball on the edge of the Laois square, but didn’t get any power into his shot and it was easily saved by Enda Rowland, which was enough to see Laois home.
Scorers for Laois: Mark Kavanagh 0-11 (0-8f, 0-1 sideline), Charles Dwyer 1-3, Eanna Lyons and Paddy Purcell 1-1 each, Ross King 0-4, Stephen Bergin 1-0, Willie Dunphy & Conor Phelan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Offaly: Joe Bergin 0-11 (0-7f), Oisín Kelly 2-3, Conor Mahon 1-1, David O’Toole Greene, Colm Gath, Niall Houlihan, Colin Egan, Kevin Dunne, Conor Longton 0-1 each.
Laois: Enda Rowland; Donncha Hartnett, Joe Phelan, Matthew Whelan; Padraig Delaney, Ryan Mullaney, Lee Cleere; John Lennon, Jack Kelly; Charles Dwyer, Willie Dunphy, Paddy Purcell; Mark Kavanagh, Eanna Lyons, Ross King. Subs used: Conor Phelan for Lennon (48), Neil Foyle for Lyons (58), Aaron Dunphy for Kelly (63), Stephen Bergin for Dunphy (66), Eric Killeen for J Phelan (70+8).
Offaly: Eoghan Cahill; Paddy Rigney, Ben Conneely, Tom Spain; Colm Gath, Pat Camon, Niall Houlihan; David O’Toole Greene, Kevin Dunne; Cillian Kiely, Shane Dooley, Colin Egan; Conor Mahon, Joe Bergin, Oisín Kelly. Subs used: Conor Langton for Kiely (58), James Gorman for Dooley (66), Dermot Shortt for O’Toole Greene (69)
Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim)