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27 May 2022

Fast improving Offaly send Laois packing

Dublin away in semi-final next Wednesday

Fast improving Offaly send Laois packing

Donal Shirley was excellent in the Offaly attack

THE improvement Offaly have made throughout the championship has shocked most observers and they took another significant step forward with a destruction of neigbours Laois in the Leinster Minor Football Championship quarter-final in Tullamore on Wednesday evening.

Leinster Minor Football Championship quarter-final

Offaly 2-20
Laois 1-6

Anyone who saw Offaly eaten alive by Kildare in the first round in O'Connor Park just a short few weeks ago would certainly not have put any money on them making a semi-final – they travel to Parnell Park to play Dublin next Wednesday evening.

They will make that daunting trip with their confidence soaring after two run away wins in the last two weeks. They destroyed Carlow last Wednesday night and trumped that performance with an even better one here. Offaly were excellent. They were super in the first half as they stormed into a 1-11 to 1-3 half time lead with the wind on their backs. They upped it more in the second half as they quickly killed off the Laois challenge, pulled completely out of sight and had the luxury of running in subs for the final quarter.

It has been a quite amazing turnaround by Offaly and shows the benefit of games. Had Offaly's season ended with that defeat by Kildare, the players would have been deprived of games and the chance to improve while supporters would have been despondent about the future prospects of the game. Instead, they have displayed vast improvement – they scraped to a win over Meath in the second round and that got them through while they performed poorly in their last group defeat by Longford but it didn't matter at that stage.

Offaly have shown their true colours in the knockout fare and their displays are adding to a mood of optimism about the future. They were very good against Carlow and they raised their performances level another couple of notches against Laois. They are playing a different pace and intensity than earlier games and are motoring extremely well now.

The extent of their win here was a surprise to both Offaly and Laois. The visitors had displayed decent form in the championship without setting the world on fire. While Offaly knew they had a very good chance after the way they played against Carlow, it had all the hallmarks of a 50/50 game, a fiercely fought local derby. Instead it was nothing of the sort.

Carlow were poor last week and Laois certainly looked a very mediocre outfit here. However, to highlight any inadequacies of the opposition would be doing an injustice to the way Offaly have performed. They deserve full credit for the pace they are playing football at, the power they are showing on the ball, their direct, purposeful running. Almost everything is done fast and Laois just had no answer to them.

The bottom line is that Offaly have now won two games of knockout football pulling up and that is something that supporters are not used to, no matter what the standard of opposition may be. Dublin will tell an awful lot more next week and Offaly will be underdogs for that but they will now travel without fear, believing that they can take them on.

For Laois, it was a bitterly disappointing end to a season that promised much. They asked some questions in the first half but never truly got up to Offaly's pace and intensity and they were showing all the hallmarks of a beaten team from early in the second half.

Offaly played some great football in the first half as they strode into a 1-11 to 1-3 half time lead. It could have been an even bigger lead as they conceded a soft goal and missed a couple of chances as well as hitting the post twice with point shots.

Offaly had a strong wind on their backs in the first half but it was still a sizeable half time lead. They controlled most facets of play with Cillian Bourke and Shane Rigney dominating midfield and the attack showing great pace, on and off the ball.

Luke Kelly was on fire in the first half, firing over four opportunist points and Offaly made a sensational start, scoring 1-4 without reply in the first five minutes. The goal was tapped home by a raiding Padraig McLoughlin broke past the Laois cover in the 5th minute and the shell shocked visitors were sucking air.

They got a lifeline in the sixth minute with a fairly innocous goal as Ryan Little's punch just crept across the line and was signalled by the umpires after they looked long and hard at it and each other. Little added a point but Offaly took over again. They got five on the trot to lead by 1-9 to 1-1 after twenty minutes and both sides swopped two points each in the closing ten minutes to give Offaly that eight point half time lead.

With Laois having the strong wind in the second half, it meant that Offaly still had work to do but they did it in mightily impressive style. They came flying out of the blocks and got three quick fire points to break Laois' fragile morale in the opening five minutes. Laois rallied briefly with points from Aaron Tarpey and David Costello but Offaly went on the rampage again. Donal Shirley floated over a delightful point and then had a goal shot blocked while the rebound from Luke Kelly was also saved. Conor Fox and Shirley again added points before Niall Furlong blasted home a stunning 49th minute goal to make it 2-17 to 1-5.

Offaly added three more points to break the 20 point barrier while sub David Donohue got the final point for Laois in injury time.

It was a collectively memorable display by Offaly with a great work rate and turnovers while there were some brilliant individual displays. Padraig McLoughlin, Cillian Bourke, Shane Rigney, Conor Fox, Luke Kelly, Donal Shirley and Niall Furlong all produced displays that were right out of the top drawer. Every Offaly player did his bit and Laois had no answer.

It is a sign of Offaly's dominance that they were completely on top in thirteen out of the fifteen positions. Only David Costello and Ryan Little posed real problems for Laois and even then, they were for fleeting spells as the ball simply wasn't going into them for extended periods – and their men, Cathal Guinan and Diarmuid O'Neill also had very good spells.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Shane Rigney (Offaly): Donal Shirley, Niall Furlong and especially Luke Kelly all staked powerful claims in the Offaly attack as did Cillian Bourke, who again excelled at midfield and Padraig McLoughlin, whose wing back play was superb. Kelly was particularly close as his early scoring spree helped Offaly build a powerful foundation but the choice is Shane Rigney. From hurling territory in Banagher and a member of the Offaly minor hurling team who play on Saturday, he was magnificent. His fielding was very good, his running strong and his composure with his left foot set up a lot – he was taken off purely because of the Offaly minor hurling game against Dublin on Saturday.

THE SCORERS

Offaly: Niall Furlong 1-3 (3f), Like Kelly and Donal Shirley 0-4 each, Conor Fox 0-3, Padraig McLoughlin 1-0, Cillian Lowry 0-2 (2f), Shane Rigney, Cillian Bourke, Ben Kennedy and Ross Kellaghan (f) 0-1 each.

Laois: Ryan Little 1-1, David Costello 0-3 (2f), Aaron Tarpey and David Donohue 0-1 each.

OFFALY: Sean Kavanagh (Tullamore); Christian McKeon (Clara), Cathal Guinan (Ballycumber), Diarmuid O'Neill (Clonbullogue); Cameron Egan (St Brigid's), Sean Brennan (Kilclonfert), Padraig McLoughlin (Tubber); Cillian Bourke (Tullamore), Shane Rigney (St Rynagh's); Cillian Lowry (Edenderry), Conor Fox (Tubber), Darcy Thomas (Ballinamere); Luke Kelly (Doon), Donal Shirley (Tubber), Niall Furlong (Tullamore). Subs – Steven Doran (Ballinamere) for Lowry (47m), Ben Kennedy (St Brigid's) for Kelly (47m), Robert Carney (Ballyskenagh-Killavilla) for Rigney (523m), Ross Kellaghan (Rhode) for Shirley (52m), Mason Farrell (Edenderry) for Bourke, inj. (57m).

LAOIS: Brochan O'Reilly; Conor Raggett, Tadgh Dinneen, Niall Lalor; Jeremy Kelly, Darragh Loughman, Jake Darcy; Aaron Tarpey, Kevin Byrne; Michael Gaffney, Corey Geoghegan, Hugo Emerson; David Costello, Ryan Little, Fionn Mullally-McEvoy. Subs – Eoin Cawley for Byrne (HT), Ben Byrne-Slattery for Mullally-McEvoy (38m), Adam Hunt for Emerson (38m), David Donohue for Gaffney (53m), James Devoy for Tarpey (58m).

Referee - Patrick Coyle (Meath)

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