Magee looks forward to settling a few young scores

 

Ian O'Riordan talks to a Dubliner seeking to lay the ghosts of Laois games past

The football rivalry between Dublin and Laois might not normally be the most potent, yet one player has a particular score to settle in Croke Park on Sunday. Dublin centre back Johnny Magee has played in nine Leinster finals at various grades, and lost all but one. And a couple of the more forgettable defeats were at the hands of Laois.

"No, I don't have many happy memories of playing Laois," he says. "I played two Leinster finals against them, at minor and under-21 level, and lost them both. So I've played against the likes of Beano McDonald, Ian Fitzgerald, and Colm Parkinson - and always experienced the losing end.

"So to be honest I can't wait to play Laois. They always had the upper hand on me at underage level, but we've a good team now and so do they. And I know what they're all about. But I respect them, because they were a serious outfit at underage and Mick O'Dwyer has them well tuned in now."

Despite losing both the 1996 minor (after a replay) and 1998 under-21 Leinster finals to Laois, Magee reckoned then there was plenty of time to make up for it at senior level. Laois too probably thought their success would merely carry on. The fact is things didn't quite work out that way.

"I suppose people can get a bit carried away with minor and under-21 success. It's a big step up to senior football. I remember coming out of minor in 1996 and coming onto the senior team, and thinking Leinster and All-Ireland titles would just follow. But then we didn't win anything until last year.

"So I think the Laois lads have also realised now that it is a bigger step up to senior level than some people think. They probably thought everything was going to happen for them too, because I know I would have if I'd won minor or under-21 titles."

What Magee is sure of now is that Laois are a lot closer to being the complete senior team than they've ever been: "It's really one of those games that could go either way. We're capable of beating them, and they're capable of beating us. So I see it as a total 50-50 game. They also have Mick Lawlor playing super stuff again. I didn't realise he'd been around for so long until I saw some TV footage of him there playing 10 years ago."

Though Magee came into the Dublin senior panel in 1997, it was 1999 - and coincidentally against Laois - when he made his championship debut, for the replay that Dublin won handily 0-16 to 1-11. That was also the last senior meeting between the sides, and one of only five since 1981, when Laois last beat Dublin.

Since then Magee, one of five Kilmacud Crokes players to start on Sunday, feels he has made progress every year. "Well my fitness now is definitely ahead of last year," he notes. "I have suffered a little bit with my weight in the past, but I enjoy my turkey over Christmas, and who doesn't? I'm only an amateur footballer, and I've also got my six-year-old daughter to take care of.

"But I think Dublin has more depth now too. Normally the loss of Dessie Farrell and Jason Sherlock would be a big loss to any panel, but the younger lads that came in the last day did a very good job."

Tickets for the game, meanwhile, go on sale at Parnell Park today (9.30-5.0) and tomorrow (9.30-9.0). Hill 16 will not be used owing to the stage construction for the Special Olympics, and contrary to reports all tickets are €20 (for Canal End, Cusack and Hogan stands)