The line up for the 2012 Laois Senior Football Final will be decided this Sunday afternoon in O’Moore Park with two intriguing semi-finals down for decision.
Two teams who have found form at just the right time meet in the first game when Arles Kilcruise and O’Dempsey’s go head to head.
After struggling past Killeshin in the first round, drawing with and then losing to Graiguecullen in the second and then struggling past Killeshin again in the third, Arles Kilcruise caught fire in the first-half of their quarter-final in what was their third meeting against Graiguecullen.
Lead by Ross Munnelly up front, Kilcruise put up 1-10 in the first-half and comfortably closed out the game after the break .What was equally as impressive was that they restricted their opponents to a single point in the first-half with a disciplined defensive display lead by Colm Munnelly and Kevin Meaney that stifled Graiguecullen’s attacking threat.
O’Dempsey’s season got off to a losing start when they lost to St Joseph’s and they came very close to exiting the championship at the second hurdle as they needed a replay to see off Ballylinan.
However since that scare they have been building momentum and were impressive in seeing off Arles Killeen in Round 3 before coming up against a fancied Timahoe side in the last eight. They looked to have lost their chance after Timahoe came back to snatch a late draw in the first game but they were not to be denied and they lead from start to finish putting in one of the strongest displays of the championship to date. With Conor Meredith back in the fold, Brian Nugent and Michael Finlay scoring well and boasting a defence that has allowed an average of just nine points a game over the last four games, they will more than fancy their chances in this encounter.
Not many outside O’Dempsey’s themselves would have tipped them to make it this far in the championship and it would be a fine achievement if they were to make it to their first senior final since 1980. Arles Kilcruise for their part were very much amongst the favourites at the start of the year and if they replicate the first-half display against Timahoe, they should return to the final for the third time in four years.
The second semi-final boasts the only team with a 100% record in the championship against the only other unbeaten side.
St Joseph’s have quietly made their way to the last four with three straight wins over O’Dempsey’s, The Rock and Portarlington. While not being spectacular, they have been very consistent and they showed against The Rock and Portarlington that they can dig out a result when the game is going down to the wire. In James Doyle they have a player who is proven in the clutch which is an important asset for what is, in the main, a very young side.
A lot of the credit for moulding a young team into title contenders must go to manager Pual Campion and his former Portlaoise links provide an interesting sub plot to the game and an added incentive for his side to upset the considerable odds.
St Joseph’s will be tested to their fullest this Sunday against Portlaoise who, despite some uncharacteristic splutters along the way, remain the hot favourites to retain the Senior Football title for a sixth successive year.
Few eyebrows were raised when they demolished Crettyard in the first round however their second round draw with Portarlington did register as a shock before they eventually finished the job with ease the second day.
There were still questions being asked about Portlaoise going into the quarter-final with Stradbally and the fact that they were 1-4 to 0-0 down early in the game before eventually seeing off their opponents means many of those questions remain unanswered.
As they have proven repeatedly for the last five years, on their day Portlaoise are unquestionably the strongest team in the county but this year cracks have been exposed and St Joseph’s will be quick to take advantage if they appear again this Sunday.
Portlaoise have only missed out on the final once since 2004 and while St Joseph’s are a young, up and coming team, it would be a huge shock if Portlaoise don’t emerge victorious from this game.