When Billy Byrne was a minor V Laois 1978

Leinster MHC 1978 Laois bridge twenty five year gap

Laois 2-8 Wexford 2-8

Replay Laois 1-11 Wexford 3-4

Not since nineteen fifty three had Laois managed to beat Wexford in the Leinster MHC that was on June 14th at Nowlan Park Laois with a point to spare 3-7 to 3-6 but then failed to Dublin in the final.
Imagine when Laois last beat Wexford Ireland only had one TV Station and the Laois Manager was twelve months away from his twenty first birthday. In seventy eight Laois won a first round in all three grades and have not done so since that was until the under twenty one team completed the treble defeating Dublin two weeks ago.
Thirty four years ago Laois beat Westmeath in Tullamore scoring 6-7 then beat Dublin 3-12 to 2-6 and then travelled to Carlow for a semi-final meeting with Wexford on June 24th the exact day of this years semi-final meeting with the same opposition.
Paddy Bergin opened the scoring before Phelim Kelly equalised and ten minutes later Pat Crehan rattled the Laois net after Mattie Keegan had a similar effort saved by the home keeper. Errill man Paddy Bergin brought his total to three at the end of the quarter and Laois were improving as the game progressed.
Laois took the lead when another Errill man John Delaney delivered a sixty five all the way to the Wexford net after eighteen minutes. Laois produced a great finish to the half with points by Mattie Keegan and Pat Bergin Billy Byrne shot a brace for the Slaney siders but on half time Gerry Phelan of Castletown saw a great effort glance off the bar but Camross Matt Collier was in the right place to hammer the rebound past Pat Cleary in the Wexford goal leaving Laois in front 2-5 to 1-3 at the break.
Wexford had wind assistance on the change over and a strong sun shone into the faces of the Laois boys. Pat Crehan opened the scoring for Wexford then Billy Byrne and Pat Bergin exchanged points Pat Critchley added another and six points separated two good teams after forty minutes.
Laois were under immense pressure as Wexford piled on the pressure they had lost the last two finals to Kilkenny and felt this was their year and fourteen minutes from time Jim Wrigley shot a goal to narrow the gap. Laois brought on Seamus Hally of Ballacolla in place of future Wexford football manager Pat Roe then a brace of points by Naomh Eanna stalwart Billy Byrne and the difference was a point. Wexford were awarded a semi-penalty but a powerful shot by Sean McDonald brought a brilliant save from Martin Conroy the Laois goalie that eight year later won a National football league medal in the same position.
Laois were hanging on when Sean McDonald pointed the equaliser but Wexford then missed a chance to go in front for the first time since the tenth minute when Luke Finn misssed an easy free with two minutes remained.
Laois then had a great opportunity to win the contest but Pat Bergin hung his head as his effort tailed agonisingly wide and the final whistle sounded shortly afterwards.
The replay took place two weeks later at the same venue and while many people felt Laois had missed the boat the O’Moores were playing in their fourth championship game at this level (as they are today) for the first time since winning the title in sixty four and they travelled in confidence.
In the meantime Laois had beaten Kilkenny in the under twenty one semi-final in O’Moore Park and hurling was on a high to say the least. Pat Bergin again opened the scoring and would go on to add six more Michael Broderick and Matt Collier increased the Laois advantage but Wexford newcomer Jimmy Gahan was denied a goal by Martin Conroy in the Laois goal after fifteen minutes.
Gahan did open the Wexford account and added number two but Laois were the better team adding points by Pat Bergin and Gerry Phelan a stylish hurler from the Pike of Rushall. Martin Conroy denied Wexford time and time again and then a long clearance by the keeper reached Gerry Phelan who hammered past the Wexford keeper from close range.
At the interval Laois led 1-7 to 0-2 but facing the breeze on the change over but hurling with fierce confidence. Wexford stunned the Laois followers scoring two great goals within five minutes of the resumption. Pat Crehan and Jim Wrigley giving Martin Conroy no chance but he denied them a third with another great stop.
Laois settled and got three points in a row to steady the nerves but Big Billy Byrne scored a third goal entering the final quarter leaving Laois hanging on again. Points by Billy Byrne and Tom Wright left the teams al square Laois having surrendered an eight point advantage and now the Slaney siders were in the driving seat with five minutes remaining.
Wexford went for the jugular but the Laois defence put up powerful resistance and John Delaney excelled so too was Matt Keegan, Billy Bowe and Richard Cahill. Gerry Phelan was denied a goal but with a minute remaining Tom Hughes awarded a free to Laois seventy yards from goal and if Pat Bergin missed a great chance in the drawn game he made no mistake landing a massive point and the roars could be heard back in Grogan as the referee sounded the final whistle.
Laois had to take on Kilkenny one week later and the Kittens seeking their eight in a row were just
too powerful for a tired Laois outfit.
Martin Conroy (Ballacolla); Pat Hooban (Ballyfin), John Reilly (Rathdowney), Richard Cahill (Do); Pat Roe (Portlaoise), John Delaney (1-1) (Errill), Billy Bowe (Rathdowney); Pat Critchley (Portlaoise), Matt Keegan (0-1) (Portlaoise); Pat Bergin (0-6) (R0-7) (Errill), Michael Broderick (R0-1) (Ballacolla), Matt Collier (1-0) (R0-1), Gerry Phelan (R1-2) (Castletown), Ciaran O’Keefe Clonaslee); Subs Seamus Hally Ballacolla for Pat Roe.
In the replay Des Healy Mountrath replaced Pat Roe and Sean Delaney Camross replaced Pat Critchley.
Pat Cleary; Joe Hogan, Noel Dempsey, Tom Walsh; Luke Finn, Pat Cummins, John O’Connor; Tony Wright (R0-1), John McDonald (0-2); Billy Byrne (0-5) (R1-2), Jim Wrigley (1-0) (R1-0), Pat Crehan (1-0) (R1-0); Liam Byrne, Pat Kelly, Seamus Fitzhenry; Jim Gahan (R0-2)
Subs used in replay Jim Furlong for J McDonald, Jim Tonks for L Byrne
Referee Tom (Doc) Hughes Carlow