Bloodied but unbowed Portlaoise aiming to extend their record provincial haul
Despite tragedy, financial debt and a sense of unfulfilled potential, Laois standard-bearers come back for more
Portlaoise players celebrate their victory over Moorefield in the Leinster club football championship semi-final at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Such is their range of motivations, Portlaoise will need to find a very good reason to lose Sunday’s Leinster club football final. That reason may well be the performance of their Dublin opponents St Vincent’s – but the Laois champions won’t surrender their claim easily.
Family bereavement, massive debt, serious illness and a desperate sense of unfulfilled potential form only part of the backdrop as Sunday’s game in Tullamore also sees certain stars happily realigning.
It’s now 30 years since Portlaoise won its first and only All-Ireland club title, and coincidentally or not, they’re now co-managed by two members of that team, Mick Lillis and Mark Kavanagh.
There’s also an element of destiny about their progress to Sunday’s final. They may have won seven Laois football titles in succession, but that exceptional record is somewhat marred by the fact they only won a single Leinster title on the back of that run – in 2009.
The desire to improve on that record was demonstrated in both their quarter-final (coming from eight points down to beat Longford Slashers, in extra time) and their semi-final (again coming from behind to beat Kildare champions Moorefield).
That quarter-final, however, was postponed a week due to the sudden death of Gretta Kelly, mother of forward Adrian Kelly – who still appeared as a substitute in the rescheduled game and kicked one of the decisive points. Kelly also came on in the semi-final win over Moorefield a week later.
“That was a tough run for everyone in the club,” says Portlaoise secretary Pat Leogue. “I think everyone is conscious now of making the most of this final, especially after being beaten in last year’s final, by Ballymun, when certainly the feeling was perhaps they left it behind them. And being 30 years on from our only All-Ireland title is also a motivating factor.”
It’s almost five years now since Portlaoise hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, when in January 2009, the proposed €19 million sale of their 17.2 acre site next to O’Moore Park fell through, on the back of refused planning permission for the potential purchasers.
They weren’t the only club to be burned by the economic collapse, but the club had already been advanced €6.5 million which was put towards purchase of a 39-acre club site at Rathleague. That, effectively, left them €6.5 million in debt.
“It’s still an ongoing situation for the club,” explains Leogue, “and certainly hasn’t been fully resolved yet. The club is starting out again, I suppose, in our new grounds in Rathleague, and over the last 18 months or so everything has been moved out there. The old ground is being rented out by Laois GAA for the last 12 months, to train county teams.