Portlaoise aim to exorcise ghosts of semi-final slip-up
YOU only have to mention last February's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilmurry-Ibrickane and Kevin Fitzpatrick's voice turns fraught with frustration.
Portlaoise had steamrolled their way through the Leinster campaign, winning their four games against the Louth, Meath, Offaly and Westmeath champions by a grand total of 50 points.
They were raging hot favourites going into the semi-final, but Brian Mulligan was shown a straight red after 20 seconds and it all unravelled before their eyes.
"Nothing went right that day," recalled Fitzpatrick (32). "We got a player sent off early on and there were a few hard calls that went against us. We lost another player late on. They were very organised and had won Munster twice in a couple of seasons, so they were no bad team."
Still, Portlaoise were heavily fancied, as they had been all season, and they were stumped. And so far, this campaign has been no different. They were favourites all through the Laois championship campaign that culminated in a fourth successive title and Fitzpatrick's seventh senior medal in all.
But tomorrow's Leinster clash is different. Despite home advantage, they are outsiders at 11/8 against a Kilmacud Crokes side that needs little introduction, although they are missing a number of players through injury.
"They've come out of the most competitive championship around, and that they did that without the likes of Ray Cosgrove and Paul Griffin and others, underlines what sort of a team they are," said Fitzpatrick.
They have come out of Dublin on four of the last seven occasions and Portlaoise have also had their considerable resources stretched. The club's intermediate side were on a championship run of their own that culminated with defeat in the final to Timahoe, which squeezed an already shallow playing staff as they were shorn of their hurlers at various stages throughout the season.
Zach Tuohy returned from the AFL to line out for the club, but it is unclear as to whether he will tog out this weekend as he is due back in Australia.
"We had lads away in the US and others away with the hurlers. We didn't want to be taking any players off the intermediates because they were on a good run. So, one Thursday night after a championship game, we only had eight training," said Fitzpatrick.
Still they hardly had a glove laid on them in Laois before the tragic death of Peter McNulty, a lynchpin of the side, rocked the club.
Their semi-final was postponed for a week as a mark of respect and Stradbally were hammered by 0-12 to 1-1 in the refixture.
After Arles-Kilcruise were dispatched in the final for the second year in a row, thanks to a late Paul Cahillane goal, Kildare side Moorefield were beaten to set up a showdown with Crokes, their first since Portlaoise beat the Dubliners in Carlow in the Leinster semi-final in 2004.
"That was a very bad day weather-wise. We went on to beat Skryne in the final that year, but it's far to say that Kilmacud have improved an awful lot since then," said Fitzpatrick.
"They have brought through a host of good players and have picked up a couple more like Brian Kavanagh, who is one of the best forwards in Leinster."
"In every line of the field they are strong. They won the All-Ireland a couple of years ago by beating Crossmaglen. That speaks for itself."