Moorefield v Portlaoise
Leinster Club SFC quarter-final, Sunday November 11, 1.30pm, St Conleth’s Park
When Moorefield take to the field in St Conleth’s Park today it will be almost a year to the day since their last challenge on the provincial path was really ignited. On November 12, 2017, Ross Glavin’s men arrived in Portlaoise as underdogs against the perennial kingpins of Laois, and the game looked to be going the way the bookmakers had predicted until a last gasp surge from the Kildare men. Eanna O’Connor pulled them level five minutes from time with a brilliant goal, before Niall Hurley-Lynch belied the atrocious conditions by dropping over a sensational point from the right wing which fought the driving wind and sealed the victory for his side. The first steps to Leinster domination had been taken, and the rest is history.
That makes today's game a revenge mission for Portlaoise. They will feel that they should have seen that game out and taken victory and went on to win a Leinster title themselves, but history is wrote by the victors.
They come into this game with perhaps a stronger footing than they did last year, albeit the rare advantage of having a home tie certainly makes Moorefield favourites this time round. When brushing aside the challenge of O’Dempseys in the Laois final last month they secured their 11th county title in 12 years and their 34th in total to rubberstamp their dominance in their home county.
The one burning question that surrounds Portlaoise is whether they are a brilliant team or just simply a good team with the largest pick in a weak county for club football. Considering that they have won just two provincial titles on their last 16 dips into the Leinster Championship suggests the latter, but each year they set out with the goal of winning this competition, with winning a county title just par for the course these days.
They were hardly challenged on their juggernaut towards the Jack Delaney Cup this year, with the six-point winning margin over O’Dempseys in the final the hardest they were pushed all year. Their average winning margin in the championship up to that point had been 14.5 points, so it’s hard to know if they are a battle-hardened team.
What is safe to say is that they are littered with past and present county stars, with nine players beginning the 2018 season on the Laois senior panel. Incidentally, it was Ricky Maher, the only player in their starting forward line in the county final who hasn’t played for Laois, who lit up the county final by bagging 2-2 for himself. The diminutive forward has been in fine form for his club all year, and tagging him will be high on the checklist for Ross Glavin and his management team. The players further out the field for Portlaoise have bundles of class however, and there is plenty of creative instincts located in their half-forward line. 38-year-old former Laois star Brian McCormack continues to pull the strings, and he will be looking to make up for missing the county final through suspension.
The pacey Paul Cahilane is also a serious threat in the full-forward line, so Moorefield will be hoping that Mark Dempsey might be able to prove his fitness ahead of this game. The young defender suffered damage to his ribs in the county quarter-final win over Johnstownbridge in September and hasn’t played since, though he was part of the panel for the win over Mullingar Shamrocks.
There should be a fascinating battle around the middle where Moorefield’s Aaron Masterson and Laois midfielder Kieran Lillis face off. Both players have serious engines and are key in both attack and defence for their teams, and shading that individual battle will have a major bearing on the game.
The Portlaoise management will have watched the events of the game in Mullingar almost two weeks ago when Moorefield knocked out Mullingar Shamrocks, and the players who will have been earmarked for special attention are Cian O’Connor and Adam Tyrrell. The former consistently laid chances on a plate for the latter, who gobbled up everything that came his way as he helped himself to 2-4 in a sublime display.
A semi-final meeting with either Meath champions St Peter’s Dunboyne or Kilmacud Crokes of Dublin is the reward for the winners here, which means if either of these two teams are to climb the summit for a third time since the turn of the millennium, they will have to do it the hard way.
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