THIS Sunday’s Leinster Club Senior Football Final marks the second time that Portlaoise and Ballymun Kickhams will meet in the provincial decider.
The last time was almost exactly 30 years ago when Portlaoise came out on top. While there has been some discussion of that game coming from the Ballymun camp, as far as Portlaoise joint manager Mark Kavanagh is concerned, that game is ancient history.
“We’d love to win it again alright but 1982 was 30 years ago. Myself and Mick both played that day but this is a different generation 30 years on. Most of our lads weren’t even born in 1982. That’s the first time anyone has mentioned that to us that we beat Ballymun 30 years ago.”
This year Portlaoise progressed steadily through the Laois championship but at times they did not look at their best. Mark Kavanagh explained ahead of this Sunday’s final in Mullingar that the plan all year was to peak for the provincial championship.
“Probably our plan all year was to be peaking come Leinster and to do that you take chances. I suppose earlier on in the championship we nearly got caught by Portarlington. Having said that since then we have improved all the time. Our fitness levels have come up. Our football has improved as well. Of course you’re trying to peak for this game on Sunday. From the point of view of players, I think they’ve applied themselves well so that happens.”
After overcoming Arles Kilcruise in a tight county final, Portlaoise have had two very differing games in the provincial campaign. After blowing out the Wicklow champions St Pat’s in Aughrim, they were put to the pin of their collar by Longford side Killoe. While Mark Kavanagh was happy with how the side played, he is in no doubt that they need to improve for the challenge ahead.
“Down in Aughrim I don’t know how good St Pat’s were. The fact that they had won the Wicklow Championship would suggest that they are good but on that particular day we played very, very well. Against Killoe I thought we played well in parts but there is still an awful lot of work that we have to do to compare to Ballymun. Ballymun have only lost one game in Dublin this year. That’s a testament to their management, to their fitness and to the club itself. I don’t believe we compare to the level that Ballymun play at. We’ve beaten the Longford champions and we’ve beaten the Wicklow champions so I’m sure everyone is thinking what’s the point in us even turning up. I know we’re Portlaoise all right but having said that the quality of the team we’re playing against Sunday is an awesome team.”
After the facile win over St Pat’s, Kavanagh agreed that the stern challenge of Killoe gave a better chance to evaluate the progress of the team.
“I’m sure neutral observers looking in at it would have said this was a fantastic battle for Portlaoise to have come through. But from our own point of view, there was things in that we saw that didn’t work. We saw things that worked and we saw things that we could improve on as a management team and to try and get that across to the players. The players themselves I’m sure want to make sure that when we go to Mullingar we won’t be letting ourselves down. We have a group of players that have transformed themselves over the last year in their general fitness and in the football they play so it would be great to see them doing well down in Mullingar.”
Traditionally Leinster Club Finals between Dublin and Laois teams are played in either Carlow or Newbridge. This time however the game is fixed for Mullingar. The Portlaoise joint manager said he wasn’t concerned about where the game was played as he was expecting excellent travelling support.
“The way we look at it is a pitch is a pitch. We’ll have great support going away. We’ve said that we like going away. We’ll have all our supporters there. They’ll all be together which is fantastic. When you go to O’Moore Park, they’re all over the place and this time around they’ll all be together. So that will be a great impetus to the team to make sure they’ll hear our crowd there and that might drive them on to give Ballymun a game.”
One area where Portlaoise appear to have an advantage over Ballymun is in terms of experience at this level. While Mark Kavanagh notes that it might not count for much, he is hoping that can get Portlaoise through in a tight game.
“The final might be new territory for them and we have very experienced players all through the pitch but having said that, ultimately what it comes down to on the particular day is who wants it more. I know over the years against the Dublin teams our fellas have fallen a little bit short but having said that last year I thought we came out of Parnell Park against Brigid’s that we probably should have won it. Brigid’s were caught in the Leinster Final then against Garrycastle. So we’re not too far away. Our experience in all those sectors will help us I’m sure and if it’s a close game, you’re hoping that that experience will come through.”