Minors aim to dig gold in Croker

Highly fancied Laois will be bidding to bridge a near 50 year gap to their last success when they play Kilkenny in the Leinster minor hurling final in Croke Park on Sunday.

Highly fancied Laois will be bidding to bridge a near 50 year gap to their last success when they play Kilkenny in the Leinster minor hurling final in Croke Park on Sunday.

The Cats are by far the biggest winners in the province with 53 titles to their credit, the last registered in 2010 when they beat Dublin by 1-20 to 0-10. However, their opponents have to delve back to 1964 for their last success at minor hurling level. Before that they registered three wins, beginning in 1934 and then again in 1940 and 1941.

“History doesn’t count for anything, as Kilkenny fans learned on Saturday evening in Portlaois against Dublin in the senior game,” suggested Kilkenny manager, Pat Hoban, when he weighted up the prospects of his charges.

Saturday’s success was the Dubs first win in the championship over Kilkenny in 71 years.

“This is a one off game, and the team that performs best over 60 minutes will be crowned champions,” Mr Hoban added. “Laois are good. We beat them already, but we got all the breaks that day.”

The O’Moore County travelled to Nowlan Park with high hopes that afternoon, and they brought a big number of fans with them. However, they were beaten by 3-20 to 1-9 after trailing by 1-9 to 0-7 at the break.

“That scoreline flattered us,” Mr Hoban admitted when reminded of that effort. “As I said at the time, I wouldn’t like to be meeting those guys again. We got the goals at the right time.

“Laois were hurt by those scores. They have put huge work into this squad of players. They have done something we couldn’t do in the championship, which was to beat Wexford. Their confidence is sure to be sky high.”

Laois gave as good as they got in that match until John Walsh – he scored 1-4 that day -gave the home side a big lift by shooting a goal in the 20th minute. The O’Moore challenge fell asunder when Kilkenny grabbed two goals during the seven minutes immediately after the break, one from a 55 metre free by Alan Murphy.

Laois bounced back smartly since that reverse. Their win over a good Wexford team was hugely impressive. In the likes of Ciaran McEvoy, 16-year-old Liam O’Connell, Ryan Mullaney, Ronan Delahunty, Ciarán Collier and Leigh Bergin they have players to match the best anywhere.

“It would be nice if we had the seniors there too, but that didn’t happen,” Mr Hoban continued. “We are delighted to be in the final. It is a big day for the players because only one of them has played in Croke Park before.

“We are happy enough with the way things are progressing. Everything seems to be going well. The win over Dublin in the semi-final was a good boost to confidence after the disappointment of the defeat against Wexford.”

The Noresiders will be without the experienced Robbie Fitzpatrick (hamstring), who played in the senior county final last season, and his Dicksboro colleague, Stephen Farrell, who broke his collar bone last week. Otherwise the selectors, Mr Hoban, Sean Kelly and James Meagher will be picking from a full panel.

The team looked good, with plenty of skill, a fine work rate and fast movement of the ball, during the defeat of Laois. After the collapse against Wexford there were question marks over the ability to defend against tall opponents.

“We are improving,” Mr Hoban said. “It is all about getting the balance right. I am happy we have a good panel. Of the nine subs listed against Dublin, six have started championship matches already.

“There are lads bursting to get into the team and get a chance. It is our job to try and get the balance right. The players are in good form, and they are mad for action. They are ready for it.”