Our review of the 2018 Laois Senior Football Season.
With the Laois senior football season now over, we take a look back at the highs and lows of a year which caught the imagination of the Laois football public.
Player of the Year - Gareth Dillon
A tough one to pick after a good year, but we'll give Dillon the nod, just ahead of club mate Graham Brody.
We'll start by asking a question - how on earth could Gareth Dillon not get a game with Laois in 2017? It almost defies belief. Dillon himself deserves huge credit for the manner in which he responded to that.
It must have been a deeply frustrating intercounty season for him last year, but how did he respond? He was Player of the Year in the Laois SFC and then nailed down a starting place with Laois this year.
It's hard to think of a game where he wasn't superb. Paul Mannion is probably still seeing visions of him after the Leinster final, and he put in another superb display against Conor McManus too. Probably fair to say Paul Broderick is a bit sick of him too.
Superb footwork, superb anticipation, pace and seemingly devoid of ego, he's everything you would want on your team.
Plus, he kicked that point against Wexford!
Honorable Mentions: As we said above, Graham Brody was brilliant this year too, and the case for him being made Player of the Year is an easy one to make. Some of his shot stopping this year was stunning, but it's his overall contribution that sets him apart from his peers.
Colm Belgey was also superb this year, probably his best season since returning from Australia. Chipped in with some timely points and read the game really well from centre-back. Stephen Attride had his year interrupted with injury, but he was very impressive whenever he played.
Young Player of the Year - Trevor Collins
The Graiguecullen man is only 21 this year, but he has already established himself as a starting player on this Laois team.
He started every game this year at right half back, and opened the season in some style with a brilliant goal against Leitrim. Showed that willingness to get forward and support attacks throughout the year, but he doesn't do all his best work on the front foot.
He has developed as a defender also, and if he contines to develop physically, which he will have to do, then he will be a central player for Laois at senior level for some time to come.
Honorable Mentions: Finbarr Crowley showed flashes of his undoubted potential, notably against Westmeath and Carlow in the Championship, and will get more chances in the years ahead. Robbie Pigott was doing well also before deciding to head to the USA for the summer, but should slot back in for 2019.
Game of the Year - Laois v Wexford, Leinster SFC Round 1
Maybe an odd choice given that Laois played in two finals this year, but bear with me.
The Wexford game provided incredible drama, from Laois' disjointed first half display to their storming comeback and Gareth Dillon's late equaliser, before winning it in extra time.
More than that, however, was the mood in the stadium after it. Laois supporters flooded the field after the game, and it's hard to remember any equivalent reaction to a Leinster Round 1 game in recent times.
The Division 4 final was an important game, while the Leinster final was the biggest game Laois played this year, but the Wexford win seemed to be a watershed moment. Supporters realised Laois were building something worth following after the Wexford game, and they started to travel in bigger numbers after that.
Honorable Mentions: The Division 4 final, and Leinster final, obviously, but also the game against London in Ruislip which saw a huge Laois crowd travel over.
Individual Performance of the Year - Graham Brody v Monaghan
Hard to look past last Sunday's masterclass in shot-stopping from Graham Brody. The Portlaoise man was more octopus than goalkeeper, as he just seemed to have an arm or a leg in the right place, at the right time, throughout the game.
Honorable Mentions: Brody again, for his performance in the Leinster final. Gareth Dillon was excellent that day too, while Paul Kingston's 3-2 against Westmeath was superb.
Also worth mentioning Evan O'Carroll here too. He was introduced as a sub against Carlow and kicked the point that sealed the win just days after burying his father. Remarkable mental strength from the Crettyard man.
Point of the Year (1) - Gareth Dillon v Wexford
If you're a point down, deep into injury time, in the a must-win championship game, it's probably fair to say you'd rather that the last chance for an equaliser fell to a corner-back.
Thankfully Laois had no such reservations, and Dillon held his nerve in a truly chaotic end to the game by stroking over a point from 35 yards out. In retrospect, it was probably the most important score of Laois' season, as the momentum they got from coming back to win that game in extra-time was massive.
Point of the Year (2) - Colm Begley v Carlow, Leinster SFC Semi-Final
The best team score of the year was probably Colm Begley's point against Carlow in the Leinster semi-final. It started with Mark Timmons dispossessing Sean Murphy in the Laois defence. John O'Loughlin picked up the loose ball, passed to Graham Brody, and he took off. He picked out Kieran Lillis, who fed Colm Begley.
Begley raced forward with Lillis in support, and he passed it back to Lillis before taking the return 40 yards out. He skipped by one tackler and calmly popped the ball over the bar.
From the time Timmons' won the tackle, it took Laois just 22 seconds to run the ball the length of the field and pop it over the bar. It was a very impressive score. Check it out in the video below from 1:15 onwards.
Honorable Mentions: In the Wexford game, Donie Kingston won possession on the stand side of the field, and from close to the sideline, cut onto his left foot and curled over a stunning point. Gary Walsh scored a couple of outstanding points against Limerick in the NFL opener as well.
Goal of the Year - Paul Kingston v Westmeath
With Laois looking to build on a strong finish to the first half against Westmeath, Paul Kingston helped to stamp our authority on the game.
He owed a fairly large debt to Colm Begley, who advanced down the left wing, brushed off a Westmeath challenger before playing a brilliant ball to find Kingston racing through on goal.
He jinked inside his marker and rifled a shot to the roof of the net, one which left the Westmeath goalkeeper Stephen Gallagher rooted to the spot.
Honorable Mention: Paul Kingston's third goal against Westmeath was fairly special too, while Gary Walsh's goal against Limerick in Round 1 of the NFL was also a brilliant finish.
Highlight of the Year
Undoubtedly the return of so many people to following the Laois team. Supporters in the county had forgotten what it was like to feel championship excitement, but they got plenty of it this year, and it was great to see the interest pick up after some really barren years.
We covered this after the Leinster final, and you can read more on that HERE.
Disappointment of the Year
The awful injuries suffered by Danny O'Reilly and Stephen Attride, in very different circumstances, robbed Laois at important stages of the season. Attride bore his injuries through his own bravery, while O'Reilly suffered his because of the cowardice of others. Thankfully, both are well on the road to recovery.
Outside of those, it was disappointing to see Gary Walsh's form suffer so much after the controversy he found himself in over his tweet regarding the Belfast Rape Trial. The top scorer across all four divisions in the NFL, he missed the final over the tweet, but had regained his place for the Leinster SFC opener with Wexford.
He was taken off at half time in that game and didn't start again, earning just a few minutes against Monaghan last weekend. An undoubtedly excellent footballer, that controversy seemed to halt the momentum he had built up, and Donie Kingston stepped into the full-forward role for the remainder of the year.
With a return to his club and another good winter of training under his belt, there's no reason to believe he won't get back to the level he was at.
Quote of the Year
"That is the one thing that is driving me. If I have the opportunity to play and once I am contributing positively to Laois in terms of my performance and preparation, my approach to training and matches - once that is all positive and there is an opportunity to play, I'll take it."
Ross Munnelly, prior to the Wexford game, when asked why he keeps coming back to the Laois setup.
Picture of the Year
A lot of contenders, but this was our favourite. A place in the Leinster final helping to soothe pain of Stephen Attride's fractured skill after the semi-final win over Carlow. Click on the link below to see more pictures from the 2018 season.