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Wednesday 18 July 2018

'You simply can't throw in the towel' - O'Loughlin

It's lonely when you lose but for Laois ace O'Loughlin it's been worth the wait

PASSION: O’Loughlin says John Sugrue has Laois playing as a team. Photo: SPORTSFILE
PASSION: O’Loughlin says John Sugrue has Laois playing as a team. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Call it rank bad timing. Laois played in five Leinster SFC finals between 2003 and '07 - famously winning in '03, drawing in '04, losing that replay and again in '05 and '07. If not quite contenders for Sam, they were certainly relevant.

John O'Loughlin made his senior debut in 2008 - parachuted straight into Liam Kearns' Championship midfield just a year after winning Leinster minor and U-21 medals. The next big thing...

Laois lost to Wexford in that year's provincial semi-final and haven't come close to a Leinster final since. Until now.

Ten years on from his debut, O'Loughlin is 29: a battle-hardened veteran. He talks like a man filled with only positive thoughts about Laois football, including Sunday's daunting Croker date with the Dubs.

But he can't deny it has been a difficult decade.

"Losing matches and getting bad beatings in the Championship is tough. It's lonely," he says. "But you can't throw in the towel. If you throw in the towel, you're walking away from something that you love.

"I fully believe that if you believe in yourself and work hard at things, right things will happen eventually."

Why did Laois fall so far? Mick O'Dwyer's 2006 exit after a four-year stint had a "big bearing", he surmises.

"When Micko was here, Laois were a top-six team and the influence he had, the respect he had... I suppose it unravelled."

Different

He adds: "In 2007 I won a Leinster minor and U-21, so Laois football was definitely in a different place. You're thinking, 'this is great and it's gonna keep happening' - but you boys know well, sport doesn't work like that unfortunately.

CLINICAL: Donal Kingston (left) and John O’Loughlin celebrate victory over Carlow. Photo: SPORTSFILE
CLINICAL: Donal Kingston (left) and John O’Loughlin celebrate victory over Carlow. Photo: SPORTSFILE

"Laois for the last 10 years have been really inconsistent. We'd win matches we weren't expected to win, and wouldn't win matches we were."

A fall down the pecking order was mirrored by a shrinking fan base. O'Loughlin doesn't blame supporters, but their own inconsistency.

"We nearly beat Dublin in 2012 and then the following year, first round of the Championship, Louth hammered us (in O'Moore Park). That match should have been used as a stepping stone to build on - but it wasn't," he reflects.

If last year's drop to Division 4 was "the lowest ebb", it did hasten the catalyst of John Sugrue's appointment.

"Everyone wanted John as manager," O'Loughlin confirms. "So, straight away when he came in, he had a collective buy-in.

"The big thing John has brought is that we're playing as a team now. Laois are probably not renowned for playing as a team and that's why we haven't won as many matches as we should. When we've won a match, it could be because some lads are playing brilliant but it's never been a collective, or I didn't think it was anyway.

"But if you watched us this year, everyone is involved and we try to do the right thing with the ball. John has been huge, he's really prepped us."

Their semi-final against Carlow was a case in point.

"If it was the old Laois, or even the old way I used to play, just trying to run through lads... that's meat and drink (to Carlow). You have to be structured and play as a team," the midfield powerhouse reasons.

Relished

And that's why he relished the challenge of breaking down Carlow. Better still that it came in a big Championship match in Croke Park.

"I love that feeling and we haven't had enough of those in the last few years. I know a lot of the boys in the press and supporters said the Carlow match was an awful match, but I thoroughly enjoyed it," he insists.

"Going down to Division 4 this time last year seemed like the worst thing in the world. But it was probably a blessing in disguise and just what this team needed."

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