Portlaoise will face the toughest test of their Leinster Club SFC credentials this Sunday afternoon, as they travel to Parnell Park to take on Dublin champions St Brigid’s.
They do so with doubts hanging over midfielder Adrian Kelly, who is hoping to shake off a hamstring injury in time to take to the field this weekend. Other than that, it is full steam ahead for Mark Kavanagh and Mick Lillis’ charges, who have already overcome St Patrick’s of Louth and Rathnew of Wicklow in their provincial campaign.
At different stages in those games they have struggled to impose themselves on proceedings, and joint manager Mick Lillis admits that this weekend’s game will be the toughest they have faced so far this year. “This is a different ball game.
“This is way ahead of anything we have played so far this year, and we don’t up the ante then we’ll be blown out of the water. We played St Brigid’s in a practice game earlier this year and they thought us a bit of a lesson, so we face a huge task this weekend.”
On the plus side for Portlaoise, every time they have been backed into a corner this year, they have responded all the better from the adversity of their situation. While Lillis admits to being pleased at their hunger to get out of those situations, he’s still waiting to see the team really hit top form. “We have responded very well when things gave gone against us, but hunger is hard to quantify, and we haven’t really shown enough of that yet, and this Sunday is a serious ask.”
St Brigid’s will bring one familiar face to the game on Sunday, with former Mountmellick footballer John O’Loughlin having slotted seemlessly into his new surroundings. He has formed a formidable midfield partnership with Barry Cahill, and it is one area where they will be looking to impose themselves on this Sunday’s game.
St Brigid’s had built their reputation as a solid defensive team in the Dublin SFC, but the concession of three goals in their quarter-final clash against Horeswood is cause to give Portlaoise hope. In Philly Ryan and Paddy Andrews at the other end of the field, however, they have plenty of scope to cause Portlaoise problems, with those two scoring 1-9 from play between them in the victory over Horeswood.
There has been a touch of Jekyll and Hyde about Portlaoise in their last two outings. Against St Patrick’s and Rathnew, when they were good they were very, very good, but they slipped out of both those games too and very nearly paid the price against St Patrick’s.
They have had their scares in the competition so far, but unless they have learned sufficiently from them then they could be in for an uncomfortable afternoon.
Both St Patrick’s and Rathnew were good, but not good enough to take advantage of Portlaoise’s poor spells in both games. St Brigid’s are, and if Portlaoise don’t top what they have produced so far, the reality is that it is unlikely to be good enough.
They have the talent to beat just about any other club team in the country, but on a cold November’s day in Parnell Park, the hunger Mick Lillis alluded to is as important as anything else. If that hunger can fuel them for the full hour this weekend, a Leinster final place awaits.