Portlaoise heading in search of Leinster glory against Graigue Ballycallan

Rory Delaney

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Rory Delaney

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rory@leinsterexpress.ie

Portlaoise heading in search of Leinster glory against Graigue Ballycallan

Frank Flanagan and Tommy Fitzgerald celebrate the victory over Glenealy. Pic: Dave Barrett.

Portlaoise senior hurlers will head to Nowlan Park this Saturday afternoon to face the daunting task of toppling a resurgent Graigue Ballycallan side in the Leinster IHC Club final.

Spearheaded by current Laois senior hurling boss Eddie Brennan, they come into the game as red-hot favourites, as Kilkenny teams invariably do in these Leinster club competitions.

At this grade in particular, Kilkenny teams have held an almost iron grip on the title. You have to go back to 2011 to find a team from outside of the county to have won this competition, when Greystones of Wicklow emerged victorious.

Since then, it has been six uninterrupted years of Noreside glory, and Portlaoise are very much up against it this Saturday afternoon.

Graigue Ballycallan cruised into the final, having beaten St Mogues of Wexford by fourteen points in their semi-final, 2-22 to 1-11. Eddie Brennan was one of the goalscorers for them last time out, and even at 40, he is still hurling superbly at centre-forward.

It is in that role that he will likely come head-to-head with Cahir Healy, which should be an intriguing battle between manager and likely future panelist.

While Portlaoise are facing into a tough task in the game, they are at least picking from a full deck, with Aaron Bergin returning from his shoulder injury as a substitute last time out against Ballinamere.

The Laois SHC 'A' hurler of the year will have a battle on his hands to regain his starting place, such has been the improvement in the side over the last few games.

Coming out of Aughrim with a win against a seasoned Glenealy side was a superb result, and probably more impressive than the semi-final win over Ballinamere.

The team has evolved and developed over the course of the season, and after losing their opening games in the Laois championship to Rosenallis and Clonaslee, it is remarkable to think they now find themselves in a provincial decider.

Cian Taylor has been in superb form since settling in at full-forward, while the responsibility of free-taking thrust on Cormac Rigney after the injury to Aaron Bergin seems to have brought his game to another level too.

Getting Joe Geaney and Frank Flanagan back from the USA, and getting Brian Mulligan to step up from Junior C level, has also strengthened their defence. David O'Mahony brings urgency from the subs bench, and having looked like a club and team in terminal decline a few months ago, Portlaoise now have a chance to carve out one of the greatest ever days in their history.

Graigue Ballycallan will be a tough side to contend with though. Along with Eddie Brennan, former Kilkenny hurler James Ryall is still lining out, and corner-forward Conor Murphy is deadly accurate from placed balls they are a solid outfit without too many obvious weaknesses.

Portlaoise come into the game as heavy underdogs, which won't perturb them in the slightest. They have been underdogs in nearly every game they have played this year, but have so far managed to turn all predictions on their heads.

They are well prepared for this after two tough games against Glenealy and Ballinamere, and the expectation of victory is certainly on the shoulders of the opponents. That leaves Portlaoise free to really have a cut at this, and if they can start ewll and keep themselves in the game, they have the skill and conditioning to go to the wire.

A few months ago, a place in the knockout stages of the Laois SHC 'A' didn't look to be on the cards, but now their 60 minutes away from the greatest day in their history.