Laois pulled off arguably the biggest shock of the hurling summer with a two-point win over hot favorites Dublin in the All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarterfinal in O’Moore Park on Sunday – and manager Eddie Brennan ordered his team to celebrate with a beer or two.
That policy worked a treat for the Laois players a week earlier when Brennan allowed his squad members to enjoy their Joe McDonagh Cup win over Westmeath with a party to suit the occasion.
They were back in a party mood on Sunday – along with thousands of their county’s fans – as Laois celebrated a 1-22 to 0-23 win over the Dublin side that had knocked Galway out of the Championship a fortnight earlier.
Laois never trailed their Leinster rivals and kept their composure to hold on for a win that guarantees their first All-Ireland quarterfinal since 1979, thanks in no small measure to an early goal from Aaron Dunphy.
The result may have shocked many but not Kilkenny legend Eddie Brennan who sensed as early as Friday night, when he hosted a team meeting, that this Laois team were in the mood to upset the applecart.
Brennan told RTE Sport, “Friday night, as a manager, you’re going, are they ready? Are they tuned into this? Because we firmly believed that we could beat Dublin here today.
“We’ve had a couple of good battles with them this year. We should have beaten them in the League, and we didn’t. That’s what good teams will do; punish you for your mistakes.
“They drove on the meeting. They drove on the training this week. It was great to hear them believing they could do it because they’ve a savage amount of skill and ability.”
That good feeling was right as Laois set-up a Croke Park quarterfinal with his old Tipperary rival on Sunday.
“I’m delighted for the players,” added Brennan. “They could have been forgiven for going through the motions this week, and saying we’re going to enjoy the summer, but they really tucked into it.
“Today we were absolutely brilliant in the execution. As the year went on, the skill and the heart grew in them. They’re the things that stand to a team when you’re in a battle, and your back is to the wall. It was their spirit today.”
Goalkeeper Enda Rowland epitomized the spirit in the Laois camp with crucial saves as Dublin labored to get back in the game, managed to pull level through Oisin O’Regan in the 50th minute but just couldn’t live with the home team’s drive in those final 20 minutes.
“There’s great resolve in the boys,” stressed Brennan. “There was going to be periods where you’d take a punch or two, the opposition land them. And it’s just always how you respond.
“I pushed them hard. I said, ‘Don’t worry about making mistakes. Go make mistakes. It’s what you do next is all that matters. When the tongues are hanging out today, just look around the pitch and you’ll see nothing only Laois men. Just be there for each other.’”
Goalkeeper Rowland summed up the feeling in the Laois camp as they enjoyed their victory and the prospect of a tilt at Tipperary next weekend.
“That big day is coming a long time for Laois hurling, there’s a lot of good lads have come and gone and they haven’t had days like that,” declared Rowland.
“We made a promise to ourselves during the week that we were going to give it everything today. Everyone emptied the tanks and that’s all you can ask.”
Rowland also paid tribute to manager Brennan, the Kilkenny man who is really making a name for himself as a boss with this Laois team.
“Who better to learn off than Eddie Brennan? What he’s won and done with Kilkenny, the players he’s hurled with. He came in and instilled belief in us and a system of play.”
Dublin had beaten Laois twice in 2019 before Sunday’s encounter which made the defeat all the more annoying for their manager Mattie Kenny.
“I can’t really explain,” said Kenny. “Our preparation went well. Laois got a really good start and showed a lot more hunger and desire than we did in that first half. It’s not like a tap. You can’t just turn it on when you need to.
“We let them build a bit of a lead. They went six points up, and ultimately I think that’s what cost us. In the second half, we played a lot better. Every time we came close, they’d go down and get a point.
“In fairness, Laois worked really hard, and they kept getting good scores, and with a passionate crowd behind them, they kept driving until the finish. We had 19 missed chances. Our work rate, our tackle rate, our intensity wasn’t there today as it was in other matches.
“We forced a few shots, and maybe we could have worked it a little bit better to keep that scoreboard ticking. There was a sense there in the last 10 minutes that we were in a real dogfight, and the game was just getting away from us a little bit.”