Born-again Laois look to bury Lily foe
FOR some people, the story of this year's Allianz Football League Division Two has been the calamitous fall of Kildare. Something just as surprising, though, has unfolded over the past three weekends - the renaissance of Laois.
And on Saturday night in Portlaoise, the born-again O'Moore men can drive one final nail into the relegation coffin of their arch-rivals.
Who saw that coming?
"Laois were being written off for relegation after the first two games - maybe it was understandable to a degree," admits former player and selector Noel Garvan. "But they fought back and it's fantastic, going into the end of the league and championship, that they did fight back."
As recently as March 1, from the outside looking in, Tomás Ó Flatharta's camp appeared trapped in a downward tailspin.
They had opened 2015 with five straight defeats - three in the O'Byrne Cup, to Offaly, Maynooth and Dublin, and two in the league, to Westmeath and Cavan. The supposedly dead-rubber tie with Dublin was the closest they came to a win (they lost to an injury-time point) but the cumulative scoring difference from those five games was minus 28.
Against that bleak backdrop, they travelled to Tuam for round three of the league ... and then the snow fell. A case of Mother Nature coming to the rescue? Hard to be definitive: a three-week break to remedy early-season problems was thus extended to four.
But the transformation since then has been remarkable: a rousing 2-17 to 1-16 home win over promotion candidates Roscommon, a storming comeback from seven down to draw away to Meath, followed by another second half recovery in last Sunday's rearranged Galway clash, coming from six down to win by two clear goals.
Laois now have five points and, in the jumbled morass that is the Division Two table, they aren't safe from relegation. Yet the seemingly unthinkable - promotion - isn't beyond their reach either, if they could beat Kildare and Down while other results go their way.
Almost perversely, they have lost two defensive stalwarts - Peter O'Leary and Padraig McMahon - to recent retirement and yet they are among a select band of four counties across all four divisions to have only conceded one goal after five league rounds.
Garvan was a Laois selector last season and is now the manager of IT Carlow. "Look it, last year it's something that needed to be addressed - defensively we were way too open," he recalls.
"To concede one goal definitely shows they are going in the right direction. Obviously league is league and championship is a different animal," he cautions.
Before a league ball was kicked, Kildare were promotion favourites but now they've lost four from five. Garvan finds their current predicament "hard to understand" but adds: "It's do-or-die for Kildare at the weekend and it probably will have a championship edge to the game ... I don't think Laois are necessarily motivated to relegate Kildare. They are very much focussed on themselves."