Laois manager John Sugrue.
After a run of three manager in four years, John Sugrue is the latest man to be entrusted with the fortunes of the Laois senior football team.
Without playing a meaningful competitive game so far, he has already made his mark, with huge numbers showing an interest in being part of the panel he has put together. Further evidence of this came with Donie Kingston ending his self-imposed exile to return to the panel, as Laois brace themselves for a Division 4 campaign.
They come into the competition as heavy favourites for promotion, and Sugrue was forthright in his pursuit of that goal. “It is that straight down the line (targeting promotion). If we are disappointed with how we performed in the past, then if we train right and can implement a good programme of football, then we have to be competitive at this level.”
While this may be the lowest rung on the league ladder, Sugrue feels there isn't as much between some of the teams involved as many people might think. “This is intercounty football, and I think if you cast your eye over Division 3 and Division 2, you could put a blanket over all three Divisions.
“To some degree, a team in Division 2 could get a good game from a team in Division 4, they would not be uncompetitive and it would be a stern test.”
The Kerry native held up this weekend's opposition, Limerick, as evidence of the strength in the Division. “Limerick are a side with a really good recent history, they have been in Munster finals, and a team like that doesn't just disappear over night.”
As for his own team, he is now working towards a settled panel, with the numbers down to 35, not including long-term injured players like Brendan Quigley, David Conway, Denis Booth and Damien O'Connor.
While much of the winter was spent exposing players to this standard of football and whittling down a total of around 60 players to a workable panel for the league, Sugrue does not feel his team are playing catch-up when it comes to preparations.
“We are down to about 35 fit fellas, other than the long-term injuries, who are not on the panel at the moment, we can't plan with them, but 35 is big enough to give lads a good rattle. Every night you will have three or four lads carrying a knock so generally we have 28 to 30 lads on the field, which you need if you want to play a game.”
Many of those making up the panel are new to this level, or just finding their feet at senior intercounty football. Notably, however, Sugrue spoke of being more impressed by the new players in the O'Byrne Cup than some of the older ones, and he admits the arrival of new players has been driving things on.
“It is becoming more apparent, that the young fellas are really fresh and strong, they are fierce determined and they are the fellas on the front foot, and you can see how other lads react to it.”
As for the season ahead, he feels that Laois' season will be deemed a success or failure by the end of May. “From our point of view, your season will probably be defined by the 26th or 27th of May, if we win our first championship game and go on to play a second in Leinster.”
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