Winning has become second nature for the Portlaoise senior footballers in recent years. They’ve won eight titles in a row, the latest an eleven point win over Arles-Killeen last Sunday.
With all that success, they could be forgiven for getting complacent but that is certainly not the case with captain Cahir Healy. The dual star climbed the steps in O’Moore Park followed by his team-mates and, after picking up a deserved man of the match award, he proudly lifted the Delaney Cup.
Speaking before he headed down the tunnel, the Portlaoise captain explainedhow big an honour it was for him to have led the side to victory.
“I can’t put that into words. I saw Niall Rigney lift the Senior Hurling trophy in ‘98. Kind of ever since then, I was 11 years of age, it’s been a dream of mine. Then when I was 12, Tommy Conroy lifted it in ‘99 and I was trying to climb up the steps and get to touch these lads, to get to lift the cup. I met Jim Hughes who captained the ‘64 team last Friday. These are legends to me, the Niall Rigneys and the Tommy Conroy’s. To get to do what they’ve done is massive. It’s really an honour. I’m very humbled by it.”
Portlaoise looked vulnerable heading into the final with Arles-Killeen but to save their best for the final was particularly satisfying for Healy.
“All year people were saying we were struggling to hit form but to hit it on the big day is very, very satisfying. We’re just delighted. The scoreline was probably a bit hard on Arles-Killeen to be fair. I mean two goals came when time was up. We were just defending and caught them on the break.”
The key to victory for Portlaoise was their intensity and the relentless pressure they put on their opponents. The captain believes the players, despite their success in recent years, still felt they had something to prove.
“Before every game you talk about tackling their backs and don’t let them come out easy. I don’t know what it was today, you’d have to think the lads were getting sick and tired of saying we weren’t playing well and maybe there was a bit of anger in our performance. It’s funny to say we were going for eight in a row but we felt we had something to prove. I’d like to think we went out there and proved it today, certainly from a hunger point of view.”
When asked how difficult it was to keep it going year in, year out, Cahir Healy pointed to the younger players and the fact that the older players know this run won’t last forever.
“It helps when the likes of Garrett Dillon comes into the side this year. Graham Brody has come on and that is fierce important. Ricky Maher is starting to breakthrough and Liam McGovern, they kind of keep it fresh and keep driving it on. To be honest, the championship starts in August and if you can’t be getting yourself ready for then and you can’t get a hunger and a drive. It’s a year since we were here in a county final. This feeling is going to be gone next week. I think we’re starting to get aware that this run won’t last forever so we’re probably trying to drag every last drop out of it. Even Crossmaglen got stopped at 13 so we can get stopped any time. You only need to lose once for it to be over so I think we’re probably aware that we want to get every last drop out of ourselves.”
The attention now switches to Leinster and while Cahir Healy is not guaranteeing success, he is guaranteeing that Portlaoise will give it all they have.
“I don’t know what the story is with the Wexford team, whether they are going to be playing in it or not, but we’ll enjoy today and enjoy tomorrow as we always do and then we’ll knuckle down. We probably have underachieved in Leinster. Maybe we haven’t for getting to finals and semi-finals but we haven’t finished off as many as we would have liked to. All I can say is we’re going to give it everything in Leinster. I can’t promise we’re going to win, I can just promise that as a group of players we’re going to give it everything to win.”