AFTER THE FINAL whistle, Laois captain Paddy Purcell gathered his team-mates and lead them on a lap around Croke Park.
It was a gesture of appreciation for the blue and white hordes that had got behind the county’s hurling side over the course of a memorable week that yielded a famous win over Dublin and a battling display in this defeat to Tipperary.
Despite the loss manager Eddie Brennan hopes this can be the catalyst for further strides made by Laois hurling, while also recognising the areas where they need to improve.
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“I’ve certainly never seen a team get a standing ovation like that before,” outlined Brennan.
“It’s fair play to them, they’re acknowledging the supporters. I know we don’t often see that in the GAA but it was good for the lads to acknowledge it. There’s a good bond there now and one is supporting the other and the other is performing to do what they do and represent Laois very well and that’s great.
“The guys inside there in the blue and white jerseys of Laois, that should make them chomp at the bit to come back in October, November, whenever it is you’re back. This is where the big learning is, these are the days that are the cruellest but you learn the most from.
“Individually and collectively they have to go away and reflect on that and say right where can we be in 12 months time. You’d have to say next May you’d be looking forward to a Leinster campaign where no one in that group is going to take us for granted. We have to take confidence from that but also realise there’s more work to be done.
“There’s more gains out there to be got. That’s the big thing. There’s a lot of young guys in that dressing room and today is a very steep learning curve. You just have to say what can we take from that?
“I think what was obvious there today was probably we’re coming from a lower base as regards our strength and conditioning and that. When you’re getting two or three years of good conditioning under you, that’s where you benefit. That’s so important coming down the straight.
“That’s not a criticism, that’s education, that’s learning and we have to take cognisance of that going forward and learn from that.”
The Kilkenny great praised his Laois players for battling on despite the concession of a pair of early goals and the second-half red card shown to Aaron Dunphy.
“I wouldn’t be any way critical of the players but that was a very steep learning curve for them. When you play quality in a place like Croke Park, all those little mistakes that you might have got away with at Joe McDonagh level, they are punished very hard.
“But I am thrilled with the players. They could have been forgiven for caving in there, and coming up to half-time, it looked like we were going to be in for a bit of a clipping. But they stayed at it, that is what they have done all year and what we asked them as a management team to do, to see a job right out to the end, no matter what is happening.
“And to a man today, they did when their arms and their legs were screaming out at them, that there was nothing left. I am absolutely thrilled with them, very proud of them. They represented their county with pride there against quality opposition.”
Brennan admitted the dismissal of Dunphy was a setback too far for Laois to cope with.
“I have seen it inside, and yeah there was a bit of contact with the hurl. I have been on the receiving end of those loads of times and I have never seen a lad getting sent off, but it is not going to be a case of saying that was the reason.
“It certainly made our task really, really difficult. And at that stage, you are even going, you could be in for a long evening. In fairness to the lads, they stuck at it.
“It probably did have an impact on us, it took the pressure off Tipp and we had been putting them under pressure at times. But they are a quality outfit, they did what they had to do and to be fair to them, they did not take us for granted in any way, shape or form and they stuck at it.”
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