PORTLAOISE made history in 2011 by becoming the first team in Laois to win the Senior Football Championship title five years in succession.
For a full preview of this Sunday’s SFC Final see this week’s Leinster Express.
The elusive five-in-a-row has always held a certain mystique in GAA circles and for Portlaoise to break through that glass ceiling having narrowly missed out on doing so in the 1960s and 1980s was certainly a tremendous achievement that will live long in the folklore of the club.
However while the five-in-a-row has been immortalised in song, the prospect of winning six-in-a-row seems to hold no greater significance than any other title.
Speaking to the Leinster Express ahead of this Sunday’s County Final against Arles Kilcruise, joint manager Mick Lillis was adamant that there was no added burden of history on his side’s shoulders this year.
“To be fair the history was made last year in so far as it was never done before. That’s done and it’s kind of put to bed. The six-in-a-row hasn’t even been mentioned, certainly not in the camp. We’re trying to win this one and that’s about it. And I’m not being coy about that. It hasn’t genuinely been mentioned. We’re just trying to win this one.”
Portlaoise have been the dominant force in Laois Football in recent years but this time around they have not looked quite as invincible as they have in the past. A draw with Portarlington and a scrappy win over Stradbally were the two clearest examples that perhaps the 28 times county champions might not be at the top of their game. Mick Lillis agreed that his side have been ‘ropey’ at times during the campaign.
“We dug deep to get a result against a good Portarlington side in terms of we got the draw but we played well in the replay. We dropped the standard then again big time against Stradbally and we were lucky enough in some ways that we turned it around. Small things turn games and we got a couple of breaks and got a couple of goals and the game had turned then. But it has been a ropey kind of a season for us. Playing in bits and not playing in bits and there’s not too many other ways to describe it to be honest with you.”
In the semi-final against St Joseph’s, Portlaoise looked to be back to their best against St Joseph’s however Mick Lillis is not reading too much into that result.
“We would be hoping that we’re improving a bit. That’s always the aim. That you try and improve as you go. To be fair if you’re judging the semi-finals, Joseph’s are in a different place than we are in so far as they’ve lost an awful lot of lads to emigration. They’re a young team and their basically only finding their feet in senior football. Probably on the day the occasion got to them a little bit because they are better than what they showed against us. I think myself that it might be a little bit misleading to read too much into the semi-final to be honest.”
For any successful team, maintaining motivation and focus year on year can be a challenge however the Portlaoise joint manager has no such concerns when it comes to his side.
“As the season goes on motivation takes care of itself. I have to say that the players are highly motivated. They’re ambitious. The motivation, while it mightn’t always be apparent, it’s always there. I have to say they’re a good bunch of lads and they wouldn’t have won what they’ve won if they weren’t. They’re self motivated lads most of them.”
While Portlaoise have claimed the last five senior football titles in a row, no team has come closer to ending their winning run than Arles Kilcruise.
They have met each of the past three years and while Portlaoise have not managed to score more than 1-9 in any of those games, they have always done enough to grind out the win. Mick Lillis is under no illusion as to challenge Arles Kilcruise will pose again this Sunday.
“I honestly believe that there is tremendous credit due to Arles Kilcruise because they’ve been knocking on the door for every championship since they won one nearly ten years ago. I’d say that they probably would have been disappointed if St Joseph’s beat us last weekend because I think they’re waiting for us in the long grass as it were. They’ve a great set up. They’ve a great trainer. They’ve great players to be fair to them. They could have turned us over a couple of times in the last few years. It’s going to be a cracker of a game, there’s no doubt it. In order to win it, we’ll have to produce our best performance of any final in the last six years.”