Offaly's Ruairí McNamee shaking off the attentions of Laois's Mark Barry during the Leinster SFC quarter-final in Portlaoise last Saturday. Photo: Ger Rogers

Offaly footballers come of age in victory over Laois

By Kevin Egan

It’s not overstating it to say that what Offaly supporters saw in Portlaoise last Saturday evening was everything that was hoped for, ever since the final whistle sounded on that memorable All-Ireland U-20 final three years ago.

John Furlong didn’t stand out, but he read the game well and played with all the intelligence and efficiency that we’ve come to expect as standard. Rory Egan had a couple of chances that he didn’t finish as he would have liked but he made a strong impact all the same, while Cathal Flynn added a real jolt of electricity to proceedings, not to mention producing a pass that was as good as anything that happened in the game to set up Egan’s goal chance. Jack Bryant is beginning to show traces of the form that he is capable of and Lee Pearson was rock solid in defence and a livewire pushing forward.

Then there were the stars of the show (alongside Declan Hogan); Cormac Egan at wing-back, and Keith O’Neill up front. The decision to deploy Cormac at wing-back continues to look like a masterstroke, and he continues to find ways to break through and past tackles, while also possessing a sharp and accurate kick pass to punish those teams who expect him to run all the time.

Then there’s O’Neill, who has always looked like he has the right mix of craft and cut to be the perfect modern forward. His production has been inconsistent this year, but the ruthless instinct he showed for his goal, the natural strike he possesses when swinging over points, and his unyielding willingness to step up and serve as a first line of defence, makes him the perfect all round threat.

There were established stars who stepped up to the mark too – most notably Hogan, Dylan Hyland and Eoin Carroll, while Jack McEvoy had arguably his best ever performance in an Offaly senior shirt, getting through a mountain of work and then doing the right thing with the ball over and over again.

Overall, there is a little tingle of excitement at the prospect of a new era that Offaly fans hoped for, even if they could never say with certainty that it was coming.