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Heartbreakers Portlaoise to endEmmet óg romance

THERE is no mistaking the fairytale story of this year's Leinster club senior football championship. It's Emmet óg, the unheralded trailblazers from Killoe who are aiming to go where no Longford side has gone before -- namely the final itself of this 42-year-old competition.

The trouble with fairytales, though, is that they don't always come true. And Portlaoise don't exactly strike you as the type of team willing to play the fall-guy victims of a romantic upset.

Put it this way: the six-in-a-row Laois kingpins have won their last three championship matches by a cumulative margin of 46 points. Their last outing -- away to St Patrick's of Wicklow at a venue once called 'Fortress Aughrim' -- resulted in a 20-point landslide. By half-time the visitors led 2-6 to 0-0. "I never saw them as good," waxed one long-time Laois observer.

A feature of that performance was how Portlaoise players switched seamlessly from defence to attack. The Donegal blueprint (circa this year, not last!) has been adopted by a team that probably feels it should have garnered more than just one Leinster title from its previous five attempts, dating back to 2007.

Conor Boyle epitomised this counter-attacking quality by scoring 1-2 from wing-back against Pat's. His red-hot form was no Aughrim one-off either: the O'Moore County defender was subsequently named senior footballer of the year in Laois.

Former county man Brian 'Bruno' McCormack, now operating at full-forward, is another to excel during this current run. And yet a quick perusal through their line-up -- populated by current and former Laois stars, plus Tipperary midfielder Hugh Coghlan -- underlines the impression of a team that can strike from myriad sources.

And yet, just in case Emmet óg fans are having second thoughts on travelling into the lion's den, it's worth repeating that Portlaoise are not invincible.

They have been known, in the past, to implode, sometimes when least expected. Even their most recent Leinster triumph -- against Garrycastle in 2009 -- was followed by a disciplinary meltdown and eventual nine-point defeat to an unfancied Kilmurry-Ibrickane of Clare.

Other reasons for cautious Killoe optimism? Well, they haven't exactly been daunted by the underdog role against Longford Slashers (eventually beating the holders in a county final replay) or when blitzing Navan O'Mahonys by 2-13 to 0-8. Moreover, they have quality at both ends of the field -- All Star nominee Michael Quinn at wing-back and Longford freetaker Seán McCormack being the standout examples.

And yet, you can't escape the fact that Portlaoise have the greater experience, pedigree, inter-county depth, not to mention home advantage. The ball is in their court ...

ODDS: Portlaoise 1/5, Draw 9/1, Emmet óg 5/1

VERDICT: Portlaoise


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