In part two of our review of the Leinster Hurling Championship, Amy Forde looks at how Laois, Offaly, Antrim and Galway have fared so far in the scope of Championship 2014.
Laois began their championship hurling in May as they were part of the Leinster Championship Round Robin grouping. They finished second in the group seeing off London, Westmeath and Carlow. They only lost by two points to group winners Antrim.
In finishing second Laois qualified for a Leinster Quarter Final meeting. They hosted Galway in O’Moore Park where they caused an upset against the Tribesmen. Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett’s men battled diligently and at half-time the scoreboard rested in Laois’ favour; 0-16 to 1-07. Laois continued in their destruction and it wasn’t until the 60th minute that Galway levelled the game. The closing ten minutes saw Laois turned over and Galway came out the eventual winners 1-22 to 0-23.
A loss of two points, while they led for so long, was devastating for the team. However, it was their fifth game in as many weeks and their U-21 side had a game the Wednesday before the meeting with Galway. Plunkett did not use this as an excuse, however, and it was clear that his side tired in the final twenty minutes.
After missing out on Leinster, Laois went into the hurling qualifiers where they met Waterford in Walsh Park. Laois never got out of the blocks and at the interval it was 2-10 to 1-05 to the Déise men. The game finished Waterford 2-22 Laois 1-15; thus ending Laois’ 2014 championship.
Their championship may have been ended sooner than they would have liked but Laois have progressed in the past year with Plunkett. In an interview after the Waterford game he stated,
“We know there is still a bit for us to go in terms of the speed of our hurling and combination of our play. I think that is there for them, and when we do, I think there is a really bright future for these lads.”
Offaly started their Leinster Championship with a quarter-final pairing with Kilkenny. It was the first hurling game Sky Sports covered live and a mauling by Kilkenny ensued. Offaly did not turn up on the day and were beaten 5-32 to 1-18.
Like Laois they also exited the Leinster championship and went into the qualifiers. There they travelled to Ballycastle for a meeting with Antrim. Offaly were behind at half-time by three points and for much of the second half it looked like it would be Antrim’s day. However, Offaly fought back and when they were two points down in injury-time they won a free. Brian Carroll put it in the back of the net to put Offaly one point ahead and one more point from Seán Cleary meant Offaly came out as victors by two points on a scoreline of 2-19 to 1-20.
The Faithful County then advanced to Round 2 of the qualifiers where they met Tipperary in Portlaoise. Tipperary had beaten Galway in Round 1; a much needed win for the side so they had plenty of momentum to push on.
Offaly battled valiantly, but could not match their opponents. The full time score was 5-25 to 1-20. After half-time Offaly came out and held Tipperary within two points until the 51st minute but it was not enough and Offaly were knocked out of the championship.
Antrim, like Laois, were part of this year’s Round Robin grouping. They came out on top after beating Laois, Westmeath, Carlow and London thus booking their place in a quarter final where they played Wexford in O’Moore Park. Wexford were faster and fresher on the day and Antrim never really got going.
They thought they were bringing momentum to the game having won all of their games in the qualifying series, however, Wexford were too good for them and came out the winners 5-19 to 0-21.
Antrim then faced into the qualifiers where they met Offaly. They were in the driving seat for much of the game and looked to come out the winners but it was not to be their day.
Goalkeeper Chris O’Connell made several excellent saves on the day and Paul Shiels converted eight points for the Saffron side yet it was not enough. Offaly were awarded a free in injury-time; in which they got a goal from and that put them ahead by one. Antrim couldn’t get an equaliser and were sent packing out of the championship on a scoreline of 2-19 to 1-20.
Galway’s championship got underway in O’Moore Park against a Laois side that refused to give up. It made for sobering viewing for Galway followers as they saw Laois dominate for 60 minutes. Only in the last ten minutes did Galway find their feet.
With 60 minutes on the clock. Galway levelled the game and looked like they might push on for the win. Laois noticeably tired towards the end and Galway began making inroads. It finished 1-22 to 0-23 a demoralising defeat for Laois and a lucky escape for Galway. The win put Galway through to a semi-final meeting with Kilkenny in Tullamore.
Kilkenny and Galway hadn’t met in the 2013 championship so they continued on where they left off in 2012. The two sides served up a thriller in Tullamore which saw the Cats lose a ten-point lead to the Westerners with seven minutes of normal time left. Nobody could have predicted that Galway would come back to level the game.
It finished 5-16 to 3-22 and the game went to a replay the following week. A full house was announced for the replay and the two sides went head to head again. Kilkenny did not make the same mistake as the week before and came out the winners on a score-line of 3-19 to 1-17 sending Galway to the qualifiers.
Galway then travelled to Thurles to meet a Tipperary side that hadn’t won a championship game since 2012. Galway were leading the Premier County with 51 minutes gone by six points, however, cracks soon began to appear for the Tribes. In the final twenty minutes of play Tipperary stormed Galway and outscored them 2-10 to 0-01. The game ended 3-25 to 4-13 in Tipperary’s favour securing them an important win but sending Galway out of the running for championship 2014.
So while Kilkenny, Dublin and Wexford are still in contention for Liam; Laois, Offaly, Antrim and Galway all go back to the drawing board for the 2015 season. Laois, Offaly and Antrim have improved over the past year while Galway remain in that mid-table position.
The ‘which team will turn up on the day’ tag is still attached to Galway and it is questionable whether Anthony Cunningham will stay on as manager.
Laois have made excellent progress in the past year; almost defeating Galway gave them a massive boost, however, progress is the word and they still have a long way to go. Offaly and Antrim are on much the same wavelength with progress being made but work to be done. They all exited championship 2014 and now look to 2015.
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Amy Forde, Pundit Arena.