Portlaoise stuck in a long battle to make provincial matters count
The Laois men are still in search of that elusive second All-Ireland title, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
Don’t know they’re born, these kids today. When Portlaoise beat Ballymun in the 1982 Leinster final, five of their starting 15 were coming off the back of a league game for Laois the previous Sunday against Donegal. Better again, on the day they actually won, a couple of them got to see the cup being lifted and not a whole pile more.
The Leinster club final was the curtain-raiser in a double-header at Dr Cullen Park that afternoon, the bill-topper a hurling league clash between Laois and Carlow. No sooner had Pat Critchley and John Bohane done their club duty than they were handed hurleys and dragooned into action for the county. And we think there’s fixture congestion nowadays?
In Portlaoise, the past can’t but weigh no matter how hard they swear they don’t feel it. That team of Critchley, Bohane, Colm Browne and the rest remains the only one to lift an All-Ireland in the club’s history despite their habitual ascendancy in both the Laois and Leinster championship.
By a quirk of coincidence, they’ve won exactly the same number of county titles since the inception of the All-Ireland club championships – 21 out of 43 – as Crossmaglen have done in Armagh. And even their rate of conversion in Leinster – seven titles with a shot at an eighth tomorrow, as against 10 for Cross – stands up reasonably well. Yet they remain stuck on that single All-Ireland.
It’s not like they don’t get thrown a rope to grab onto. Year after year, they tumble out into the winter close to fully-formed. They’ve won the last six Laois titles on the spin and nine of the last 14. You never hear them complain about playing in heavy ground or fighting the harsh weather – this is just what they do after the clocks go back. They know the road and rarely find a bend that surprises them.
Yet a scan through their travelogue doesn’t do them many favours. Too many close games where they got going too late, too many days where their shooting left them holding their heads in their hands.
Last year against Dublin side St Brigid’s they had six goal chances and converted only one on their way to an extra-time defeat. The previous year, they managed just a single score in the second half against Kilmacud and only six in the whole game. Even when they were good enough to win Leinster the year before that, they were hamstrung in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilmurray-Ibrickane, having a man sent-off after 40 seconds and ending the game with 13 men. Tale after tale after tale of woe.