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The Laois hurlers will feature for the first time in Croke Park since 2005 this Sunday in the Joe McDonagh Cup final, for some players it will be a well-deserved reward after several gruelling years in with the county.
The Laois hurling manager, Eddie Brennan, is much more familiar with the stadium in Dublin having played there almost every year of his playing career with some legendary Kilkenny teams, masterminded by the genius of Brian Cody.
At the beginning of his tenure with Laois, Brennan set out his sights early on what he hoped to achieve.
“There's no magic to that, those were the competitions we were in. We had to look and see what was realistic, and the reality was that the league quarter-final was something that was there for us. We ended up with Offaly doing us a favour. We could have been through ahead of that, but it is what it is.
“The McDonagh was our bit of silverware and we're there now, so it's just going to come down now to seventy-four minutes of hurling and it's great to be there. There's a bit of a stir around the place and that's important. It's good to have it. It's a good way to be and there's a lot of work gone into that.
"To be fair the crew we have in there at the moment worked very, very hard and it's a reward for them that they get to play in a McDonagh Cup final in Croke Park. As I've said before, finals are for winning and that is the reality now.”
Following the draw match in the last round of the Joe McDonagh Cup against Westmeath, Laois managed to keep their unbeaten status in the competition with the result.
“We put an emphasis on that (remaining unbeaten). The one thing we weren't going to do was go through the motions on our own patch, in front of our own crowd. That was absolutely a no no. You know in the first half it took us a while to settle, we were a little bit off the pace, but to be fair we did have changes but I suppose we had to give those guys a chance to bed down into the match and as the match wore on they battled and battled and got something out of the match.
“Even to go down to two or three minutes into stoppage time to hit a free to get a draw in your own patch was very important too. It's just a great way to finish off the campaign. We'd like to have gone out and won the match.
The big battles for this Laois team throughout the year were when they went on the road, and that was what ultimately defined their year so far.
“To go over to Tullamore on the very first match was a big one, and then to go on the road down to Kerry because we had a terrible record against Kerry in the last couple of years. So to go to Tralee and get a good performance and come away with a win was massive.”
The Laois hurlers hosted a meet and greet last Monday, and supporters from all ages gathered around O'Moore Park to meet their heroes.
“There's a snap in their step and there should be. Last night was important, it's good that there's a stir around the place that young lads can see that they have an adult team representing the county that they want to go follow. There is local heroes, that's the only way that you sow the seed for the future. I think that's very, very important.
“It was how myself and Tommy(Fitzgerald) without a doubt you'd look up to what guys are hurling for your club first and foremost, and then what guys are hurling for the county and you aspire to be like them. They have some really good guys that young lads of 10/11/12 are looking up to now and saying they want to be the next Laois senior hurler or whatever that is. So that's important.
Preparations for Sunday are done and dusted at this stage, with the game the players sole focus.
“The players have to keep their focus now because for them they want to finish the year in good style. And that's when you get to a final, they're for nothing else but winning. Yeah there's a good intensity, there's a good snap to training. You'd expect that.”
Westmeath suffered a devastating loss in this same final to Carlow last year, so they will be hungry to right the wrongs this time around.
“They are a good outfit. They have the added thing of being there in a final last year so they know what comes with that. There's the baggage that comes with losing it, it definitely puts a little chip on your shoulder from time to time, so that's where they have something that they are driving towards. They want to banish that memory.
“I suppose we're not overly fussed about them to be honest about it, we have to focus on ourselves. We have to focus on what we're about. They are going to present a huge challenge for us, but ultimately for us and it has been our focus all year round, is we focus on ourselves and we focus on what we're in control of. Trying to inflict our type of game on opposition and play to our strengths.
“We have a team well good enough to go on and win it, and it's just all about now getting it right and that the bit of hunger is there. We know what Westmeath are going to bring and we have to go above that.”
Brennan hopes his players rise to the occasion that is Coke Park:
"There is the Croke Park factor and it is very hard to replicate that anywhere else and you are playing the game on a big day.
“From what I've seen, when you get into the throws of the match, it doesn't matter where you are and the surroundings become irrelevant after that. For a noisy place, you will still hear each other on the pitch. It will be a big day out but that is what you play hurling for.”
Laois will meet Westmeath in the Joe McDonagh Cup final on Sunday at 1.45pm.