Going on form there is no doubt that when Liam Sheedy sat down last spring to assess the form of what he would assume as possible opposition in the hurling qualifiers, Laois would not be one of the teams he would have to assess very closely.
But such is sport and following Laois surprise win over Dublin at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise last Sunday, this is what he has to do as the O’Mooremen provide the opposition for Tipperary in the All-Ireland quarter final at Croke Park on Sunday next (4pm throw in).
The fact that Laois are the opposition posed many questions from the Tipp manager. The first question he would have to ask is when did Tipperary last play Laois in the championship? Answer. Fifteen years ago in the 2003 qualifiers at Portlaoise when Eoin Kelly scored 2-8 (0-4f) as Tipp romped home on a 3-28 to 0-13 win. Current Tipperary selector Tommy Dunne lined out at midfield that Saturday evening in a team that included former Kilkenny man Denis Byrne.
That game was only the second ever championship meeting involving both sides. They met in the All-Ireland final seventy years ago as Tipp won 3-11 to 0-3 as the start of their last three in a row All-Ireland successes. That year in 1949 is said to be one of the warmest summers of the century in a year of many surprises in the hurling and football championships.
Despite the lack of championship meetings the teams have met frequently in the Allianz Hurling League. Thirty five times in fact with the most recent in March 23rd 2008 at Leahy Park, Cashel when Tipp won at the early stages of Liam Sheedy’s first tenure as manager.
Tipperary won 26 of these Allianz League games and Laois won 6, with 3 draws.
balancing the books. Laois defeated Tipp in October 26th 1986 at Semple Stadium in a period of Laois supremacy. They reached the Leinster final in 1985 and also reached the Ford Open Draw final when they fell to Cork. That competition was specially organised to mark Centenary year.
Statistics aside, Liam Sheedy should be worried about the quality of this Laois team who looked too fast for the Dublin side who were hot favourites to win.
Laois manager, Eddie Brennan had his team well primed and with a seven day rest, following his team’s win over Westmeath in the Joe MacDonagh Cup he had his fifteen exactly where he wanted them. That was not an easy task.
Many players refused to play for Brennan at the start of his tenure but look what has happened since. Brennan’s team has a spine of hurlers that would be the envy of many. Their goalkeeper Enda Rowland is among the best and his save to deny Danny Sutcliffe at the end of the clash with Dublin was a testament to what he can do. The save was bread and butter to the Laois custodian.
Lee Cleere is a splendid corner back while Ryan Mullaney is a constant at six. Laois employed John Lennon as sweeper and his ability to perform that duty caught the eye and was significant in the defeat of Dublin.
Another significant feature in the Laois run is the displays given by team captain Paddy Purcell. The long striding midfielder has done well in the wins over Westmeath in the Joe MacDonagh Cup and against Dublin last Sunday.
The Tipp defence will have their work cut out to deny the artistery of Aaron Dunphy, Mark Kavanagh and Stephen Maher who man the Laois forty. Willie Dunphy’s display at right corner forward against Dublin was blistering. He created the goal for Aaron Dunphy against Dublin starting with great composure when he collected possession and rounded his marker out on the corner with such speed and skill. Both Cha Dwyer and Ross King are also on the inside forward line making the front six a real threat to any defence.
Liam Sheedy will welcome this game in a bid to erase the disappointment of losing to Limerick in the Munster final.
On that day his team were outmuscled and lacked speed at times against a Limerick side that had a full complement of players not like the meeting the week previous which Tipp won.
Sheedy will hope to see Cathal Barrett back to full fitness. He may introduce some new faces to the side with Kilruane MacDonagh player Jerome Cahill on the short list based on his performance when he came on as a substitute against Limerick in the second half. Other new faces include wing back David Sweeney, Kiladangan who has struggled over the last two years but is said to be back to full fitness.
As we said the Laois forward line is top class hurlers and the Tipp defence will need to match them stride for stride. If they do they can lay the foundation for the Tipp attack which is the best frontline in the business despite the loss against Limerick.
Tipp’s midfield line will need to up the ante where Michael Breen and Noel McGrath never got to the level they are known for in the contest with Limerick. Then Limerick possesses the best midfielder in the country as in Cian Lynch. Perhaps Liam Sheedy has other ideas for Breen. He can play full back and the Tipp inside backline has been in trouble from time to time mixing the good with the bad.
There is no doubt but Tipp possesses the best front six in the country and if they are to function well they will need a better supply than the one received last day out. This is where the winning and losing of the game will be decided.
The average Tipperary supporter will expect Tipp to win and win handsomely. That’s what expected when Tipperary face a team like Laois. I’m not so sure. Eddie Brennan is a shrewd operator and he will have his team well primed to take on a Tipp team that don’t know where they stand at the moment.
On paper the neutral will also expect Tipp to advance to the All-Ireland semi final against Wexford. They might do that but not by much. To win Tipp will need to get on top of their game from the get go. Let’s hope they do.
Previous Meeting: 1949: All-Ireland Final
Tipperary 3-11 Laois 0-3 at Croke Park
Laois caused the upset of the year when they defeated Kilkenny 3-8 to 3-6 in the Leinster Senior Hurling Final at Kilkenny on July 18, 1949. On the Laois team was the son of a Polish immigrant by the name of Paddy Ruschitsko who was the star of the Laois team
On the same day over in Cork, Tipperary had defeated Limerick 1-16 to 2-10. Both teams advanced to the All-Ireland final by way of semi final wins for Tipperary over Antrim and for Laois over Galway.
The summer of 1949 was one of the warmest in years at the time but on September 4th the day the All-Ireland hurling final was played in Croke Park was not as kind as showers threatened to spoil the day.
It didn’t deny Tipp who went on to claim their 14th All-Ireland title following a 3-11 to 0-3 win. Laois had failed to add a second final to the one won in 1915. Tipp led 1-5 to 0-3 at half time.
TIPPERARY: Tony Reddin; M Byrne, A Brennan, J Doyle; P Stakelum (capt), P Coffey, T Doyle; S Kenny, P Shanahan; T Ryan, M Ryan, J Kennedy; J Ryan, S Maher, S Bannon. Subs P Kenny for Coffey.
LAOIS: T Fitzpatrick; L White, J Bergin, P McCormack; J Murray, T Byrne, P Ruschitsko (Capt); J Styles, W Bohane; P Hogan, H Grey, P O’Brien; P Lawlor, P Forde, P Kelly. Subs: W Dargan for P O’Brien; A Dunne for Ruschitsko.
REFEREE: M J Flaherty, Galway.