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Tuesday 24 April 2018

Underachievers Portlaoise aim to lift Dublin curse

Portlaoise's Brian McCormack. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Portlaoise's Brian McCormack. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

BRIAN McCORMACK has a wonderfully straight-forward answer to the leading question: should Portlaoise have garnered more than one Leinster club crown since the start of their record run of seven straight Laois SFC titles?

"Yeah, we should," the Portlaoise captain admitted, "but, like, you don't deserve them unless you play well.

"Last year, we didn't play well (against Ballymun Kickhams in the final) – we probably weren't let play well. And years before that: some days we never turned up. So it's up to us.

"All you can do is give 100 per cent," 'Bruno' expanded. "If we go out the next day and give 100 percent and everybody can look one another in the eye and say 'I did my best on the day' ... if we win we win, if we don't we don't, but once we're honest with one another and let's hope in two weeks' time we are."

Sunday week in Tullamore is the club's latest provincial D-Day: as with last year, they face the champions of Dublin, this time St Vincent's. It will be their third Leinster final in the last five seasons, their solitary victory in that period coming against Garrycastle of Westmeath in 2009.

On paper, this year's ask looks a daunting one, considering how Vincent's have overcome the suspension-enforced absence of Diarmuid Connolly and Ger Brennan in recent weeks and will now have their decorated Dublin duo back for the decider.

In the wake of Sunday's semi-final success against Moorefield, the Portlaoise camp were happy to play the underdog card as they talked up their Marino rivals: McCormack described Connolly as "probably one of the best footballers in Ireland," while his joint-manager Mick Lillis was equally effusive.

"Ger Brennan and Diarmuid Connolly are two fantastic footballers. Connolly is probably the best footballer in the country at the minute, certainly the best in Dublin," he argued. For Portlaoise, there have been plenty of provincial 'ifs' and 'buts' since their current Laois reign started in 2007.

More often than not, their Leinster ambitions have been suffocated by the capital's finest. In 2007, they were blitzed at the semi-final stage by their next opponents, St Vincent's, 3-13 to 1-8. In 2010, they raced into an early seven-point lead against Kilmacud, only to suffer quarter-final meltdown, scoring just two points over the last 50 minutes to bow out 2-7 to 2-4.

The following year witnessed a semi-final epic that went to extra-time before St Brigid's eventually prevailed, 2-16 to 1-15, whereas last year's final defeat to Ballymun (0-11 to 0-8) contained far less thrills but the same bitter pill for Portlaoise.

Asked if they would use last year as a motivation, Lillis quickly clarified: "Last year's Leinster final, the year before's semi-final and a couple of more games other than that. We have no crow to pluck with St Vincent's; maybe if it was Ballymun, it might be a different kettle of fish. But it's a big, big game for the club."

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