By Kieran Murphy
ON a surface which could only be described as bottomless, Carlow produced their best performance of the season but it still wasn’t good enough to beat Laois in this fourth round national league clash on Saturday evening in Portlaoise.
There were four different areas on the pitch where water was visible while on a 20-metre sandy stretch along the sideline and underneath the stand, there wasn’t one blade of grass growing.
That is not to say Laois were not the better side who clearly deserved their win, but it left a sour taste in the mouth. Even winning manager Eddie Brennan felt the game should not have gone ahead.
“The pitch was in awful condition and I suppose I’d be somewhat apologetic to Carlow that we ended up playing the match like that,” the former Kilkenny senior hurler said.
Free-takers dominated the scoring. Ross King floated over 12 points with 0-8 of those coming from placed balls while Marty Kavanagh replied for the visitors with 0-11, with all but 0-3 coming from frees.
Playing with the breeze, Laois opened up a 0-6 to 0-2 lead by the 25th minute. The only other player to score at that stage, apart from King and Kavanagh, was Willie Dunphy for Laois who landed a glorious point from way out on the right and into the town-end goal.
A minute before the break Aaron Dunphy became the third Laois player to get on the scoresheet when he also found the posts from a difficult angle on the right.
Just before the break Damien Jordan saved well from Dunphy and with the ball sticking in the mud the onrushing King was pinged for fouling the Carlow net-minder. At half-time Laois were worth their 0-10 to 0-5 advantage.
It didn’t look good for Carlow as Laois had finished strongly with three points on the trot after their early lead had been whittled down. They had a shaky two-point advantage with only three minutes left of normal time in the half.
Carlow demonstrated they were not going to let the game slip away from them that easily as they hunted well in the boggy conditions in the second half. Substitute Chris Nolan pointed and Kavanagh landed a point from play and another from a free. Sandwiched between those scores the best goal chance of the game fell to Laois when Eoin Gaughan drove forward. Space opened up in front of him and it looked as if all he to do was pull the trigger. In the wet it was understandable he needed time to settle and with the sliotar stuck in the ground Carlow got enough defenders back to deny the corner-forward.
A subsequent free from King was welcome for the home side. When Laois keeper Enda Rowland found Ciaran McEvoy in space, the left-half back raised a white flag. It looked as if Laois were set to raise their game. In reply Chris Nolan added another Carlow point to keep their challenge alive.
The respective sharp-shooters saw their tallies mount. It was that sort of game where players struggled in the wet. At one point Carlow flicked the ball away from a Laois forward who was heading for goal. It looked a clean intercept but Cathal McAllister, the referee, didn’t agree. It was harsh but Carlow didn’t object.
With time slipping away Kavanagh final point of the game brought Carlow to within a point of their opponents. When Jon Nolan scored the equaliser away supporters began to dream.
It wasn’t to be. A Carlow defender was penalised when he challenged for the ball as Laois came again. It was a marginal call but these are the kind of calls which become more noticeable towards the end of the game. The earlier ones are usually forgotten about. King nudged Laois in front when the ball was brought in front of goal for backchat. More than likely he would have found the posts anyway.
In injury time, Carlow won a free out but indiscipline cost them when a Carlow player was over enthusiastic in trying to get hold of the sliotar so the free could be taken. A minute later from the same spot Kavanagh had a chance to level. 90 metres out and with the rain pouring down his shot sailed just wide of the left-hand post.
Laois secured possession from the puck-out and in the process played down the clock to ensure their place in the top division once again next year.
Carlow take on Wexford in their final league game next Sunday while Laois face Kilkenny, but even if results were to go their way, Carlow will prop up the table on the head-to-head rule.
They will then go forward to play Westmeath, from Division 1 Group A, in the league relegation play-off where both sides will have one more chance to save their status for 2021.
Laois: Enda Rowland; Matthew Whelan, Jack Kelly, Donncha Hartnett; Padraig Delaney, John Lennon, Ciaran McEvoy (0-1); Liam Senior, Fiachra C Fennell; Willie Dunphy (0-1), James Ryan, Paddy Purcell; Ross King (0-12, 0-8 frees), Aaron Dunphy (0-1), Eoin Gaughan. Subs: Cian Taylor for Dunphy (56 mins), Ronan Broderick for Kelly (59 mins), Ciaran Comerford for Fennell (59 mins).
Carlow: Damien Jordan; Alan Corcoran, Paul Doyle, Michael Doyle; Gary Bennett, David English, Gary Bennett; Jack Kavanagh, Aaron Amond; John Michael Nolan, Diarmuid Byrne, Kevin McDonald; Marty Kavanagh (0-11, 0-9 frees), Paul Coady, Ted Joyce. Subs: Chris Nolan (0-2) for Coady (h/t), Jon Nolan (0-1) for Amond (54 mins), Sean Whelan for Joyce (56 mins), Eddie Byrne for Byrne (62 mins), Michael Malone for J. M. Nolan (64 mins).
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).