A DECORATED KILKENNY All-Ireland winner and a Galway native who had been a stalwart in Dublin senior colours.

At the final whistle in Portlaoise yesterday, Eddie Brennan and Niall Corcoran embraced each other after helping mastermind as joyous an afternoon as Laois hurling has known for quite some time.

The local consensus was that this was the highest hurling peak scaled by the county since they took down Wexford to reach the 1985 Leinster final.

They only won one match in the league this spring and last season needed a last day win over Meath to prevent them being embroiled in a play-off to avoid relegation to the Christy Ring Cup.

Now they had pushed Dublin towards the 2019 departure door, are in the last six in the hunt for the Liam MacCarthy Cup and get to pit themselves against Tipperary.

And it was achieved amidst the backdrop of a party in Croke Park the previous Sunday, a Joe McDonagh Cup title that was cherished and justifiably celebrated in the aftermath.

Still it did not distract Laois from their next task, the focus returned in time to overturn Dublin.

“I left here Friday evening after we had a meeting with the players and we announced the team,” revealed Brennan.

“I rang Niall Corcoran on the road up and just said – ‘I think we are right here. I think we have them’ because they drove on the meeting, they drove on the training.

“They could have easily been forgiven for going through the motions. I wouldn’t say that about the players because they are not that sort of bunch but this was definitely a big blow for guys who have been down for a long, long time.

“When they believe in themselves – that was the difference – and today right from minute one they were well tuned in. We said to them – ‘don’t be afraid of the occasion. GO and enjoy it. And go at it. If anyone is under pressure today it is the guys up the hall.’

“Right from minute one our tackles were right on the meat. We set the tone. To get a shot in the arm like that – a goal early – was brilliant. It as the tonic we needed. Every time Dublin responded we were able to go back up and keep punching. That has been a trait of this team all year long.”

Eddie Brennan celebrates with Ross King after the game in Portlaoise.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The application of the Laois players struck Corcoran.

“They had a few pints Sunday night, had a few more Monday, there was a bit of black smoke at training Tuesday and Wednesday. I guess the question was posed to them was what was the group’s ambition?

“Is it the Joe McDonagh Cup or do they want more for themselves? As a management group we saw the ability that they do have. I think they answered that there out on the pitch. I think it was just phenomenal and I’m so delighted for them.

“Full credit goes to that group of players, 1-33, the way they’ve applied themselves throughout the week to win the Joe McDonagh Cup and to get their feet back on the ground and to prepare for today. It’s days like this they deserve and they’ve earned and fair play to them.”

It was a day of conflicting emotions for the Kilmacud man after so many seasons immersed in the Dublin camp.

“It’s definitely for me mixed emotions. Heartbreak for the Dublin lads because I know a lot of them and they’re brilliant guys.

“Complete elation for the Laois lads because they’ve earned it since last October, working hard. Looking forward to Croke Park next week to be honest.”

For Brennan this was a day to salute the Laois players, not their sideline operators, and in particular due to their attitude since defeating Westmeath.

“Today, on top of it all, we saw their spirit grow, something that has been happening all year, and it was said when I came up here initially that there’s a lot of issues but none of them were brought into our dressing room.

Ryan Mullaney celebrates after Laois triumphed.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The players to a man had each other’s backs no matter what they done. They enjoyed Sunday night. No problem and they enjoyed Monday as well but they came back in here Tuesday evening and not one of them grumbled or groaned. That was a sign for me that right, there is something here.

“I am getting a little bit of credit and I don’t want it. The players are ones that crossed the line, that drove it on. Our game plan is very, very simple. We focus on being able to execute the skills of the game under pressure and under fatigue. They done that in abundance today when they needed to.

“Dublin got a run just after half time and I thought right who will we get in but funny enough all the backs were doing okay. I wondered would it catch up on us going down the straight but they refused to come off. Two or three of them went down injured – Lee Cleere is brilliant like that. He’d be in a heap on the ground and Niall would go into him and he’d go ‘I’m not coming off.’

“Niall would go ‘he’s grand’ and he’d be down again. That spirit, that refusal to listen to your legs, to listen to your body because you head is just so powerful. It convinced the lads to keep going when the need is the most and your body is screaming out at you not to stay going.”

– First published 14.13, 8 July

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