Conroy: Leinster foes 'formidable'
St Vincent's boss lauds dominance of Laois champions who will look to make amends
TOMMY CONROY has described Portlaoise's strike rate in the Laois championship as "phenomenal" ahead of their Leinster SFC showdown in Tullamore on December 8, insisting their superior experience of this competition makes for a far more dangerous opposition than anything his St Vincent's team have faced this year.
"It's a great advantage for them. Seven out of seven is incredible," Conroy said. "To come out seven times and have that experience in Leinster. They're going to be a formidable outfit. And they're going to be very keen to make amends for last year.
"It's phenomenal ... seven Championships. The only other team with that sort of record is probably Crossmaglen," he pointed out. "And it doesn't matter what county it is ... it's an amazing achievement.
"And because of that, they probably look straight to Leinster. They probably feel aggrieved I'd say in the last couple of years that they haven't gone further and won Leinster and maybe pushed on and got to an All-Ireland. So it's going to be very tough for us to go down to Tullamore and take them on."
Still, local dominance hasn't been a clear pathway to Leinster success for Portlaoise, despite turning the Laois championship into their own personal fiefdom since 2007.
In six previous attempts, they have won just one provincial crown, back in 2009, and their record in opposition to Dublin clubs during the run isn't exactly sparkling.
Ballymun Kickhams, St Brigid's and Kilmacud Crokes have knocked them out of Leinster in each of the past three seasons, with last year's provincial final defeat to Ballymun Kickhams proving a particularly painful loss.
St Vincent's themselves hammered Portlaoise by 3-13 to 1-8 in the 2007 semi-final, the first season of their seven-timer and, in all probability, the Dublin side will have a much more familiar feel from that which beat Summerhill in their semi-final on Sunday.
Former Dublin goalkeeper Michael Savage is expected to be available to retake his place in the St Vincent's team, according to Conroy, and that's only one of three expected returns.
"He's grand. He just had a bit of a stomach bug," explained Conroy. "He wasn't well. Fingers crossed, he should be okay."
Savage, who served largely as Stephen Cluxton's apprentice throughout Pat Gilroy's management of the Dublin seniors, was a late withdrawal from the Vincent's team on Sunday with back-up stopper Dermot Jordan filling in and called into service on a number of occasions by virtue of a strong performance from the Meath champions.
"Summerhill were very well organised. They played exceptionally well. I wasn't surprised by it," insisted Conroy. "We watched them and they're well able to play football.
"They were very well organised and very well set up. And they started great."
Predictably enough, Conroy was generous in his praise for Tomás Quinn, who continued his inspirational and prolific form with a haul of 1-8, kicking some vital scores at key moments to ensure safe passage to the decider.
"He's having a great year," Conroy praised. "He's been outstanding. In every way, he's been outstanding this year. I think he's enjoying it. I think he's relishing it this year.
"So there's pressure ... but I don't think there is pressure on him. He's done it all. But I think he's enjoying his time him."
Conroy confirmed that his team had incurred no additional injuries and welcomed the expected return of both Diarmuid Connolly and Ger Brennan, back from their suspensions, for the final.
"(The panel) have been very good at that all year, stepping up when they've been needed. If Diarmuid is back and Ger is back, it is a plus for us. But I still think there is huge experience in that Portlaoise team," concluded the St Vincent's manager.