Longford's Holy Grail
The first shock of the 2012 championship season is on the cards in Longford on Sunday. The question is -- what will constitute a shock?
For some weeks now, the prospect of Laois not surviving their trip to Pearse Park for their Leinster championship first-round fixture has been tossed around.
But should it really be considered a shock if it comes to pass?
Since the draw was made, Longford have had their eyes on this one and revenge for the defeat in Portlaoise in the corresponding game 12 months ago, one they definitely left behind.
With no Leinster championship victory in the last four seasons, their time is long overdue.
Long-serving goalkeeper Damien Sheridan is so fixated with it that he would have sacrificed Longford's recent Allianz League Division 3 triumph for victory on Sunday.
"If any man could have guaranteed me a win in the championship on Sunday, we'd have sacrificed anything for that -- the league trophy included," said Sheridan, a veteran of nine championship campaigns.
That recent Division 3 final victory over Wexford, a second league win in successive years, has underlined the improvement since 2009.
What pleased Sheridan most was that the game didn't breed over-confidence.
"The worst thing to happen would have been to win that by eight or nine points and maybe get notions about ourselves above where we are and maybe go into the Laois game and get caught there," he said.
"We played really well in the first half. In the second half we were expecting Wexford to come at us, which they did.
"We had nine wides in the second half. Maybe if we had got a couple of points, it might have stemmed the flow a little bit. Wexford had nothing to lose at that stage. They threw the kitchen sink at us and thankfully we were able to hold out in the end."
So Longford prepare for an opening championship match against a county that has won a Leinster title within the last decade, with an unusual weight of expectancy surrounding them.
Sheridan admits that on any day in any competition, this Longford team harbours a collective belief that it can win.
"It's irrelevant. Every game we go out in we think we can win it -- even when things were going really badly," he said.
"You go back to 2005 when Dublin gave us a hiding in Croke Park. There was some little bit in us that thought we could beat Dublin. On that day they were way ahead of us.
"The next year, we got Dublin again. The Leinster Council looked at us and said there was no way we can bring this game to Croke Park. Dublin will give them another hiding. How are we going to get them to train for the year? It was down in Pearse Park and we lost by three points.
"We had the same players. It's just maybe we had something more to fight for. We don't see that any team is above us. We think that on any given day we can beat any team."
Sheridan admits that they might have lost Glenn Ryan as manager at the end of 2010 when a meeting was called to assess where they were just days after their defeat to Down in the second round of the qualifiers.
"Glenn might have been close to going. Who knows. But it was great that he was able to stay on," he said.
"Glenn was only coming from a place where he was managing a Kildare U-21 team, which is really only a three or a four-month season as opposed to a nine-month season at inter-county. It obviously would have taken him time to get used to that."
For Sheridan, that meeting was as beneficial to players as much as the management in the drive to progress.
"Glenn wanted to know where we stood in relation to what we thought was going on, how things might improve," he said.
"It was a very open meeting and it was very encouraging in that people actually spoke out. Before that, we had players who would stay in the background and be happy to be playing without saying anything. Once the championship was over, they were back to their clubs.
"But at that meeting, they actually put their foot forward and said 'I disagree with this' or 'I think we need to do something more' and Glen took that on board and came back.
"We even asked questions of the county board as well -- they answered all of those. So, we are a very harmonious group at the minute.
"Everyone is pulling in the one direction and we all have the one vision, and that's the big thing that is really working for us."