herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

Cheddar's return has an epic climax for Laois

Leinster SHC: Laois 0-29 Offaly 0-21

Zane Keenan
Zane Keenan

AS the final whistle sounded and O'Moore Park erupted, Laois veteran Willie Hyland charged to the sideline and gave a huge bearhug to his manager, Séamus Plunkett.

It was a fitting metaphor to sign off on a stunning eight-point victory against Offaly.

Hyland, the scorer of seven magnificent points from play, was one of many heroes on the day Laois secured their first championship victory over their rivals since 1972.

The ensuing 43 years had witnessed two draws and 14 SHC defeats for Laois. Most people expected that to reach 15, perhaps even more so after Plunkett resigned less than a fortnight ago after two of his panellists played a club challenge against his wishes.

But the charismatic 'Cheddar' was coaxed back last week, and the bond between players and manager could not have been more tangible, not just at the whistle either.

After 25 minutes, despite facing a strong wind, the visitors led by 0-10 to 0-6 and everything seemed to be going to script. From there to the finish, though, they hurled Offaly off the Portlaoise pitch, hitting eight on the spin to lead by four at the break, then raising their game to an even higher level.

With Joe Campion playing the sweeper role to effect, Offaly's danger men were denied any goal opportunities. Meanwhile, Laois's point-taking from distance bordered on outrageous - even into the elements when one of Zane Keenan's 11 points came via a 60m-plus sideline cut.

Afterwards, Plunkett recalled "tough memories" against Offaly from his own playing days in the '80s. As for his more recent "issue", he said it "wasn't about the discipline of people, being in the pub or in the night club or something like that. It was purely about Laois wanting to have a top-quality culture in absolutely everything we do, and I think it was pretty clear today in terms of the performance of the players that that is what it's about. The issue is closed now and it's over, and the team pushes on."

They play Galway on Saturday week whereas Offaly face into an uncertain qualifier fate. "We were outfought today and that was very disappointing," surmised a clearly devastated Brian Whelahan.

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