By Kevin Egan
The reigning TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate champions Laois guaranteed their senior status for next season after they edged out Cavan in a roller-coaster relegation play-off in Kiltoom.
After starting strong with three points on the spin, including a good strike off the outside of the right boot from Eva Galvin with the first play of the game, Laois were handed a huge opportunity when Cavan wing-forward Aisling Walls became the first of five players to be yellow-carded.
Yet by the time the Killygarry player returned to the field, the score was 0-3 to 0-2, and Cavan had found their feet in the contest.
The Ulster county were handed further boosts when Laois talisman Mo Nerney was also given ten minutes on the sideline, and then dual player Sarah-Anne Fitzgerald saw yellow for sliding along the ground in a bid to toe poke the ball away from a Cavan player. Her protestations resulted in referee Eddie Cuthbert upgrading her card to a red, meaning that Laois started the second half with just 13 players on the field, and a slender 0-4 to 0-3 advantage.
Undoubtedly, it was the midlanders’ play over the next 20 minutes that secured their win. Clodagh Dunne and team captain Ellen Healy anchored a tock solid defence while Donal Brennan’s side controlled the ball very well, retaining possession and gradually engineering the chances that led to Gráinne Moran (one) and Mo Nerney (three) kicking the points that moved them 0-8 to 0-3 in front.
With time running out, another yellow card, this time for Andrea Moran of Laois, gave Cavan one final chance to try and use their extra players to run the ball through the Laois defence and carve out the scores they needed to end their season with a win.
Aisling Gilsenan chipped over a free and then finally got a direct running play going and Muireann Cusack found Ellyanna Madden, whose clever sidestep and composed finish reduced the gap to the bare minimum. Given that Laois had just hit the post at the other end through Shifra Havill, it felt like a little bit of luck was now going Cavan’s way.
Madden attempted to repeat the trick with another attack in the 60th minute, but this time was adjudged to have charged with the ball and so she too was sent to the sideline, and that proved crucial. A fast break out of defence saw Nerney and Eva Galvin combine to set up Orla Hennessy for a crucial score, and while Gilsenan again cut the gap to one with a free, Laois held their nerve, held the ball and set up one last attack, with Andrea Moran using her rest to good effect as she drove at the Cavan defence, earning the free from which Nerney kicked the insurance point, and her sixth score of the afternoon.
Cavan will now go into the relegation play-off final next weekend hoping to preserve their senior status for 2024.
Scorers - Laois: M Nerney 0-6 (0-4f), E Galvin 0-1, SA Fitzgerald 0-1f, G Moran 0-1f, O Hennessy 0-1.
Cavan: A Gilsenan 0-4f, E Madden 1-0, M Cusack 0-1.
LAOIS: E Barry; S Farrelly, C Dunne, A Kelly; S Havill, E Healy, L Nerney; SA Fitzgerald, LM Maher; O Hennessy, E Galvin, A Healy; K Donoghue, G Moran, M Nerney. Subs: A Moran for Donoghue (23), R Williams for G Moran (54)
CAVAN: Róisín O’Reilly; N Byrd, N Keenaghan, C Brady; Rebecca O’Reilly, C Charters, E Halton; C Madden, E Madden; A Walls, A Sheridan, K McCormack; M Cusack, G Sheridan, A Gilsenan. Subs: C McCaffrey for McCormack (h-t), S Lynch for Walls (h-t), A Cahill for C Madden (47)
Ref – Eddie Cuthbert (Down).Tweet