*Our county football final coverage is in association with The Baba's Barbershop
As he basked in the glory of a hard-fought one-point win over Killeshin in Sunday’s Laois SFC final, Niall Rigney wasted little time in paying tribute to the losing side.
While obviously delighted with the result, Rigney was keen to acknowledge the role played by Killeshin in a competitive final. “It was a great battle, it was totally expected to be fair to Killeshin, we gave them the respect that they totally deserved and I’m going to tell them now when I go into their dressing room that they can be incredibly proud of themselves.
“They are one of the top two teams in their county, for a club that was junior ten or twelve years ago, they were fantastic and fair play to them, but that doesn’t take away from us. We have three in a row now, I’m relieved but I’m absolutely thrilled that we got the result.
“We showed great character when there was a couple of scores we could have taken but we didn’t take. I suppose a lot people will be talking saying Killeshin missed their chance, but no, we’re just delighted. Show me a championship that was ever won easy, we showed great character.”
While he was keen to praise Killeshin, he also reserved words of praise for two of his own players at opposite stages of their career. “Damon Larkin turned 17 two weeks back, he’s 20 years younger than Bruno and he won a championship with him there today, that says something for Damon and it says a lot about Bruno.
“He won his 16th county championship medal today, 15 in football and one hurling, that’s an incredible achievement regardless of who you are and he battled on again today, he’s a marvellous bit of stuff, we’re just thrilled.”
Rigney took a lot of his satisfaction from the win because it came after a challenging year, something he felt was overlooked when people were analysing Portlaoise over the 2019 season. “I don’t mean to be negative, but people are saying all year that we haven’t played well and we’re playing poorly, but what people need to remember is that we have twelve lads between U-20 and senior on the county panel.
“I have 31 players on my panel and I went for about eighty per cent of the year, and finished three league games with fourteen players. That’s not taking away from today by any means, but people are saying we were not playing well but we beat Ballylinan by nine points in the first round of the championship, an up-and-coming Courtwood team by six points in the second round of the championship, people were saying we played poorly but they are a damn good team, both Ballylinan and Courtwood.
“St Joseph’s came out and played a very defensive style, that’s their business how they go about it, when they did come out in the last five minutes we scored the last three points to win, we won our semi-final after being six points down at half time, showed great character, I think we scored 1-9 in the second half to win the semi-final, and won the championship today when there was maybe three goal opportunities and four or five point opportunities that went astray.
“If you had said to me this morning ‘Niall, you’ll win the county championship today and you’ll win it by a point’, I’d have taken both hands off you.”