After a memorable campaign, Laois’ 2019 season came undone in Croke Park on Sunday as they fell to a 10-point loss at the hands of Tipperary in the All Ireland quarter-final.
Just two weeks ago, Eddie Brennan’s side were filled with elation in GAA HQ as they lifted silverware after beating Westmeath in the Joe McDonagh final and what followed was one of the best days in Laois’ history as they beat Dublin in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise to progress to the final six of the All Ireland series.
However, their second visit to Croke Park this year was a “steep learning curve” as, despite a notable opening period, they suffered a 2-25 to 1-18 defeat to Liam Sheedy’s men.
Brennan was quick to praise the spirit of his players to see the game out to the end.
“I wouldn’t be in any way critical of the players whatsoever but today was a very steep learning curve for them that when you when play quality in a place like Croke Park, all those little mistakes that you might have got away with at Joe McDonagh level, they tend to be punished very hard.
“I’m thrilled with the players because they could have been forgiven for caving in today and coming towards half-time, it looked as though we were in for a bit of a clipping but they stayed at it and that’s what they’ve done all year.
“That’s what we’ve asked of them as a management team, is to see a job right out to the end no matter what’s happening and to a man today, they did.”
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— Electric Ireland (@ElectricIreland) July 15, 2019
A major turning point in the match came in the 38th minute when Aaron Dunphy saw red for striking Padraic Maher in an off-the-ball incident.
Brennan did not seem to agree with Colm Lyons decision but he refused to blame their loss on the isolated incident.
“I’d have a take that it wasn’t seen. I’ve seen it inside and yeah, there was a bit of contact with a hurl. I’ve been on the receiving end of those lots of times and I’ve never seen a lad getting sent off but it’s not going to be a case of saying ‘that was the reason’.
“It certainly made our task really difficult and at that stage, you’re going ‘oh God, we could be in for a long evening’ but to be fair to the guys, they went at it and kept fighting. When you’re coming down the straight in a match like that, your experience will get you through that, your bit of craft and bit of know-how.
“These things happen. Unfortunately, it probably did have an impact on us. It took the pressure off Tipp when we had been putting them under pressure at times.
“But they are a quality outfit and I’m not going to take anything away from Tipperary today, they did what they had to do and they did not take us for granted in any way, shape or form.”
Considering this was Laois’ third major game in three weekends, they could be forgiven for being fatigued on the pitch. On the contrary, it was the O’Moore County who dominated the opening period and even when Tipperary stretched their lead to eight points, Laois halved the deficit before half-time.
Two players from @monaghangaa and one from @TyroneGAALive are nominated for the Electric Ireland Football Player of the Week, as the Farney got the better of their rivals in a hard-fought Ulster Minor Football Final on Friday. Cast your vote below! #GAAThisIsMajor
— Electric Ireland (@ElectricIreland) July 15, 2019
Towards the closing stages of the game, Tipperary’s experience and fitness saw them over the line and that is something Laois must learn from, according to Brennan.
“What was obvious there today was that we’re coming from a lower base as regards our strength and conditioning and that when you’re getting two or three years of good conditioning under you, that’s where you benefit. That’s so important coming down the straight.
“We probably struggled that side of Christmas to really get the gains and we saw that the players that did have the fitness base in there were the ones that stayed going till the end. That’s not a criticism, that’s education and we have to take cognisance of that going forward and learn from that.”
Laois supporters turned up to Croke Park in their droves and they were quick to show their admiration for their team following the game, giving the players a standing ovation while they did a lap of the pitch.
Brennan believes that show of solidarity will drive players on come preparations for the new season.
“The guys inside there in the blue and white jerseys of Laois, that should make them chomp at the bit to come back in October, November. That’s what brings you back. These are the days that are the cruellest but you learn the most from.
“Individually and collectively they have to go away and reflect and say ‘right, where can we be in 12 months time?’ Next May, you’ll be looking forward to a Leinster campaign where no one in that group will take us for granted and we have to take confidence from that but also realise that there’s more work to be done.
“There’s a lot of young guys in that dressing room and today is a very steep learning curve and you just have to say ‘what can we take from that?’ I’ve certainly never seen a team get a standing ovation like that before.
“They’re acknowledging the supporters, we don’t often see that in the GAA but it was good for the lads to acknowledge it and there’s a good bond there now.”