Mike Quirke , Laois GAA senior football team manager
Like the horse a few furlongs from home, Laois are poised in the middle of the pack in Division two of the National football league and their next move will be crucial.
While they will come with a kick, it may not be enough and there is still a danger that they could fade and finish up near the back of the pack.
They have five points from five games, average at best but with the way results have gone and with the games they have left, they can still be in the promotion shake up but also are not safe from a relegation scenario either.
The league resumes on Saturday when they travel to Mullingar to take on Westmeath at 2pm, a team that joins them on five points and a team that beat them in the division three final last year.
A win on Saturday would propel them near the top of the division and would end the Westmeath promotion push while if they were to lose and other results went against them, it could leave their final game away to Fermanagh a must win to avoid the drop.
First things first, Westmeath on Saturday and whatever way this one goes, there won't be a lot between them. Two midland clubs who have been hard to separate in recent years and both in a situation where the remaining league games are just as important to the them as the impending championship.
Speaking to the Leinster Express in the lead up to the game, Laois manager Mike Quirke is delighted to be back playing and agrees that the two league games are vital for Laois.
“We didn't even know a couple of weeks ago if we would get to this point so it is great to have it to look forward too and have that bit of certainty in these uncertain times.
“These are huge games. With what has gone on before and getting the points that we did before the pandemic hit, we just want to finish it off properly and get as many points on the board as we can.
“We are in the position where if we lose both games we could be relegated and if we win both of them, we could be in the mix again (for promotion).
“There are implications as well for next year's championship provided that still goes ahead. We don't have a huge amount of time to prepare but we have to do the best we can.”
Given the pandemic and the localised lockdowns, preparations have been far from ideal but Quirke is a man for looking forward and while collective training only really began last week, they will be ready for what is in front of them this Winter.
“Technically, we were allowed to start back training on the 14th of September but the round three games were only happening that weekend in Laois so we didn't train prior to those games.
"We did a bit the following week but you had the quarter finals then the following weekend so we did nothing in the week leading up to those.
“We only had seven lads who weren't involved in the quarter final weekend and three of those lads were injured so we did a small bit with the other four but that's not going to give you much quality so we are only really back fully since last Tuesday night.
“We will have had six or seven sessions before we play Westmeath which is far from ideal obviously but with the pandemic, the localised lockdowns and the structure of the championship, there wasn't much we could do about that.
More than ever, club form will come into play when Quirke and his backroom team sit down to evaluate the players. It's pretty much their only measuring stick but as Quirke explains, club form should always be front and centre when looking at players.
“When we started initially, there were guys who couldn't come in for various reasons and now there are lads who can't come in for different reasons.
“In general we got on with things prior to the pandemic and we will do the same now. We are really happy with the group that we have.
“The only thing is that lack of time. We would love another few weeks particularly as we have some guys that haven't been involved with us before and you would like more time to integrate them into the whole thing. We watched every kind of senior and intermediate championship game that we could get our eyes on and we wanted to make sure we were getting lads who were bang in form as we knew we weren't going to have a lot of time to prepare guys.
“We have lads who have been performing really well with their clubs and we are hoping to see the benefits of that.
“That is the way it is supposed to work. Guys who are performing well with the club are the guys that should be representing the County.
“With the club championship coming first this year, it gave us a chance to re-evaluate everyone.
“Guys that might have been playing well in February – we are in October now, that's a lifetime ago and lads that weren't going well back then have now found form or fitness or maybe their injuries have cleared up. It has worked out well for some and not so well for others but that is the only metric we have really.
“I got up to a lot of games. I lot of them were double and triple headers so you are coming up for a day or two and taking in four or five games. I would have seen all the recordings as well but you have to do that, it is all part of it and you have to make sure that if there were guys out there that weren't involved with us for whatever reason, maybe they got a bit of form and were worth a look.
“That has happened with a couple of cases and we are happy with that.”
With Westmeath on the horizon this Saturday, there are no significant injury worries in the camp.
“We have a few bits and pieces but we are only back really and we have a few lads carrying over injuries but as of now, we have nothing significant so hopefully it stays that way,” explained the Kerry native.