Laois need a 'big scalp' to take the next step - Maher
AFTER a couple of near misses, Stephen 'Picky' Maher insists Laois need a major scalp if they are to take the next step.
For two summers in a row, Laois have fallen agonisingly short against Galway and ahead of their foray into the back door, Maher wants Laois to finish the job against one of hurling's established powers before the summer is out.
"That's the talk in the camp at the minute – to get that first step, knock down the door and beat a big team and things will fall into place. It's all about beating that one big team, taking the one big scalp and we'll go from there," said Maher, who was named as the GAA/GPA Opel Player of the Month for May along with Donegal's Michael Murphy.
Laois' rise under Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett continued this year with consolidation in Division 1B, including a rare win over Offaly in Tullamore as well as a strong performance against All-Ireland champions Clare in the league quarter-final.
In his three years on the panel, Maher has seen a remarkable turnaround in fortunes. His first season saw the midlanders' championship end with a 25-point hammering and he credits their revival to Plunkett, who helped bridge club rivalries to make the county competitive again.
"You would hear lads talking about a few years ago and that the group wasn't united. Everyone wasn't getting on. There were lads sticking to their corners. Everyone gets along now. Everyone would die for each other now.
"He's a massive part of it. He would do anything for you or anything for Laois. He keeps the wheel turning, really. Since he came in he has been the biggest part of it."
Maher pointed to the difference between this year's defeat to Galway and last summer's near miss as an indicator of the rising expectation in the Laois dressing-room.
"Last year everyone was delighted to even get that close," he admitted. "This year we were fully confident going in. To lose out by two points in the end, it was just pure devastation.
"We came so close and probably could have edged over the line against a team of their experience. We were going five weeks in a row and the last 10 minutes you are emotionally and mentally drained.
"After Galway we are obviously going to be looking to win no matter who it is against or where it is or when. We want a good performance first and then we'll try to get the win."