EirGrid Leinster U-21 Football Championship Semi-Final: Offaly 2-9, Laois 2-8
Offaly recovered from a terrible start and survived a late Laois onslaught to reach the EirGrid Leinster U-21 FC final for the first time since 2007 at Netwatch Cullen Park this evening.
Despite not opening their account until the 18th minute, Offaly fought back to lead by two points at the interval, and continued to dominate throughout the second half.
Ahead by 2-8 to 1-4 in the 51st minute, and perhaps already looking forward to meeting with Dublin or Longford in the final, the Faithful County had to endure some anxious moments as Laois sprung to life and cut the gap to just one point in injury-time.
But Gary Kavanagh’s charges left themselves with too much to do and a Shane Tierney free eased Offaly’s nerves. Even so, they had to line the goals as Laois went for a last-gasp winner from a 13 metre free. Tom Shiel’s pile-driver was saved and Liam Knowles’ follow-up went over the bar in the last action of the game
Nevertheless, it was a deserved victory for Offaly, whose performance seemed to dip when two players received black cards in the closing stages. Initially, the omens didn’t look good for the side jointly managed by James Stewart and Declan Farrell, as they failed to score in the opening quarter.
Laois hit 1-2 without reply but faded poorly once Offaly settled down. In fact, they went most of the match without raising a white flag from open play.
Sean Moore, who top scored in Laois’ quarter-final victory over Louth, chipped in with two early frees. And when another effort for a point from the same player came back off the upright in the 13th minute, Colm Murphy pounced to tap the ball to the net.
Laois also hit five wides during this period as they threatened to establish a big lead. But Ciaran Farrell then finished a neat move with a well-taken goal to get Offaly off the mark. Spurred on by that score, the Faithful County grew in confidence and fired over four unanswered points from Farrell (free), Paddy Dunican, Shane Tierney and Jordan Hayes (free).
Sean Moore eventually replied for Laois with this third pointed free, but Paddy Dunican restored Offaly’s two point advantage before the interval with a fantastic point from the left wing.
The highlight of the second half was a sensational 39th minute goal by Adam Mahon. He received a pass from Shane Tierney and unleased a pile-driver to the top corner of the net.
With further points from Jack Walsh, Tierney and Jordan Hayes, and only Moore replying with a free for Laois, Offaly were up by 2-8 to 1-5 with 55 minute elapsed.
But Laois were thrown a life-line when Sean Moore followed up another free with an expertly-dispatched penalty. And with substitute Tom Shiel and Moore adding to their tally, suddenly they were only one behind.
Fortunately for Offaly, Shane Tierney hit back with a free and they succeeded in preventing Laois from snatching a match-winning goal.
Offaly: C Farrell (1f) 1-1; A Mahon 1-0; S Tierney (1f) 0-3; P Dunican 0-2; J Hayes (1f) 0-2; J Walsh 0-1.
Laois: T Moore (1-0 pen, 6f) 1-6; C Murphy 1-0; T Shiel and L Knowles 0-1 each.
OFFALY: B Rohan; C Horan, D Dempsey, C Doyle; A Mahon, C Stewart, PJ Daly; J Lalor, J Hayes; C Farrell, P Dunican, J Walsh; R McEvoy, R McNamee, S Tierney.
Subs: J Egan for Stewart; K Higgins for McEvoy; J Clancy for Dunican (black card); C Brazil for Dempsey (black card)
LAOIS: A Cooney; J Kelly, S Nerney, L Knowles; P O’Sullivan, E Buggie, T Collins; D O’Reilly, D Luttrell; D Connolly, B Daly, C Whelehan; C Murphy, S Moore, B Byrne.
Subs: A Carroll for Byrne; D Doyle for Connolly; T Shiel for Kelly;
Referee: B Cawley (Kildare).