Laois manager John Sugrue. Pic: Denis Byrne.
Laois senior footballers are back in action this Sunday, as they look to clip the wings of a high flying Monaghan side when they meet in Navan.
For manager John Sugrue, it is the latest test in an impressive debut season at the helm of the Laois team. Monaghan are not in the same sphere as Dublin when it comes to the championship, but they are not far off them.
For a reminder of their quality, Sugrue only had to look to this year's NFL to show that this Monaghan team are a tough test. "They've beaten Dublin in the League already, in the final round of it, and they obviously have a really strong record in Ulster recently, so they are a quality side, there's no two ways about it.
"But, like that, they've got turned over on their day as well, so we've got to get ourselves as right as we can and give ourselves the best chance of doing it."
Laois haven't met Monaghan in the championship since 2012, so does Sugrue know much about the side he will face this Sunday? "I know a reasonable amount, we have seen plenty of them down through the last number of years.
As a forward division they have some very talented footballers, in the middle of the field they are big, strong and dynamic.
"They have some very solid performers, Vinny Corey, Conor McManus, there's a Conor McCarthy in the corner as well, very strong player. As a forward division they have some very talented footballers, in the middle of the field they are big, strong and dynamic and they are able to cover ground.
"At the back, they do defend fairly staunchly and they don't tend to cough up a whole pile of opportunities, but that's for us to figure out."
While Ulster football is credited with giving us the blanket defence, Monaghan are generally seen as a side who look to play football, and a team that you can play football against. "Yeah, they are I suppose.
"There is quite a strong defensive aspect to their play, having watched a bit of the Ulster championship this year, they are not afraid to go back in numbers either, but we're going to have to play our game, to a great degree, and see where we can get to with them."
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Monaghan have earned respect around the country for the manner in which they have maximized minimal resources. Since losing to Laois in 2012 they have transformed under Malachy O'Rourke, and Sugrue feels it shows how important it is for a county to have every aspect of their GAA setup working properly.
"Malachy probably took over at that stage (after the loss to Laois in 2012), I'm not sure who was in before him. Ever since then, Malachy has had a good hold on them guys and they've had their days out, and have enjoyed many successful days. Monaghan, going down through the years, back in the 80s they had a very solid football team as well.
"It is one of those things though that county's have to gather themselves and get their house in order, and that's in a big sense, in a grand sense, throughout development squads and stuff like that and try to make sure that things are happening correctly, and they seem to have their house in order up there.
"They can get caught, like most teams at present, but it very much is the case that the likes of themselves, the Tipperarys, the Clares of this world that have really nudged themselves on from where they were at ten or fifteen years ago, they've really gone on a step or two."
We will have to tweak ourselves again to play Monaghan who seem to play a hybrid of the strong defensive and yet a high pressing game.
With just two weeks between the Leinster final and this game, Laois haven't a huge amount of time to prepare, but Sugrue was giving this game just as much respect as he did for the Leinster final. "You have to look at Monaghan's way of playing. We did similar against Dublin, Carlow, Westmeath and Wexford. We tried to figure out ways to negate their stronger points and push on with a few of our own.
"We will have to tweak ourselves again to play Monaghan who seem to play a hybrid of the strong defensive and yet a high pressing game. They have some good forwards that they trust and they want to get the ball up to them. So it is going to be intriguing."
History is stacked against Laois this weekend, as the losing Leinster finalists have lost their Round 4 Qualifier game in each of the last eight years. However, having bucked one trend with Laois already this year, Sugrue is out to do another. "That is a fact and I can't challenge you on that. It is also a fact that we didn't win two successive Leinster games since 2007 and we did that this year.
"So I would like to think that we can be slightly different to the provincial runners up from previous years. I'd like to think that we can be real challengers in this game and see where we can get with Monaghan.
"So if we can extend that 30 minute window we had against Dublin to 50 or 55 minutes against Monaghan, then it gets to a point where ultimately are we growing as a team or are they coming back to us."
The scorching weather has been a topic of much discussion over the last few weeks, and while it will likely be difficult conditions for football this Sunday, Sugrue didn't feel it offered an advantage to anyone. "Everyone is in that boat (the weather).
"They're not going to live out in the sea for the week and stay cool, they're going to be on dry land the same as ourselves, it makes no difference. These fellas are all adults, they're high-performing athletes, they should know how to mind themselves and it shouldn't have a big impact on the game.
"The temperatures have tailed off a small bit, I don't think there's any big issue with that. If anything guys, throughout the two or three weeks, will acclimatise to it, so it should be fine."
With the Leinster final now behind them, Laois emerged from that game with little to no negativity around the county. While Sugrue is grateful for that, he wants his team to push on and aim for greater things. "Reality is reality. We started out in Division 4 this year. Dublin started in Division 1 and won the National League having come into it in third gear. So the reality is from Division 4, find me a team that won a provincial title, and there mightn't be too many.
"We are dealing in reality here, but we also have to be ambitious. We have had our measure against the standard bearers in the country. We are now playing a team who are not quiet the standard bearers but they are a very solid team and we will be respectful to them.
We have had our measure against the standard bearers in the country.
"They have their Ulster titles and nobody is going to take that away from them. But we have got to push and see.
"The supporters have been fantastic. They've turned up in great numbers and even after the Dublin game we came back to town and we went out for a while. There was a great buzz around the place because there was a festival on but most people wanted to talk about the game. Not cut fellas or put them down and I think that is very important that that remains in Laois."
As for his players, having initially weathered the storm of the Dublin result, he has been happy with how they have applied themselves in training ever since. "There was disappointment (after the Leinster final). We got back in on Tuesday night with a gym session and the boys, they just knuckled down.
"The heads were down a little bit, for sure. There was a bit of work put in front of them by Robbie Cannon and the boys went gamely about it. They did their bit of work.
"On the Wednesday night we trained and everyone turned up and there wasn't too many moping about the place. To be fair to them, they look like they are eager to go on and try to get our team performance."
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