Thursday 22 February 2018

No regrets for Bruno over early end to Laois career

Portlaoise captain Brian McCormack gets away from Michael Brady of Longford Slashers during their Leinster club quarter-final
Portlaoise captain Brian McCormack gets away from Michael Brady of Longford Slashers during their Leinster club quarter-final
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

YEAR after year he produces the goods for Portlaoise, but forward ace Brian McCormack has firmly ruled out a return for the Laois seniors next season.

He predicts that a lot of his clubmates are set to return to the county fold in 2014 under new manager Tomas O Flatharta, which is good news for Laois football fans.

"I think there's a good few of the boys going in with the county, they've all met up and had a talk with him," he reveals.

But, at 32, Portlaoise captain McCormack says he's at the point of no return. Anyone observing Portlaoise over recent years cannot help wondering why more of the team that won their seventh Laois senior title in-a-row this year are not still lining out for Laois.

Only Conor Boyle and Kieran Lillis were part of Justin McNulty's squad last year, though dual star Cahir Healy had been involved before he gave his full commitment to the county hurlers for 2013.

In a county where underage talent has so often underachieved at senior level, the club that dominates the domestic game looks to contain a significant slew of 'ones who got away.'

McCormack, who won a Leinster minor medal in 1998 and walked away from the county senior set-up 10 years later while Liam Kearns was in charge, certainly still looks like one who left prematurely.

"It was my decision," he explains ahead of Sunday's Leinster SFC club final against St Vincent's.

"I'm not an eight-to-five man, I'm a prison officer and I do shift work, I'm on every second weekend and at the time I was working in Mountjoy.

"The lads in work would always help you out, they were great, but you were just (always) looking for lads to cover for you and, at the time, my wife had just had a new baby and you'd be gone five to six nights a week training and also be gone for weekends.

"Nah, I've no regrets," he insists. "Maybe I will in a few years when I give up football altogether, but I was happy just to play with the club and I'm still really enjoying it.

"My time is done there (with Laois)," he insists.

"It really is a young man's game now and there's a lot of lads struggling with injury.

"It's nearly a professional game now played by amateurs with the commitment needed. The work lads do with the county now is phenomenal."

Laois' loss has undoubtedly been Portlaoise's gain.

The man they call 'Bruno' is a gifted, natural 'old-school' forward and whenever they need digging out of a hole – like they did in extra-time after trailing Longford Slashers by eight points in their recent Leinster quarter-final – he usually steps forward to provide the shovel.

After five years commuting, he returned to a job in the Midlands Prison three years ago and now, apart from his two small boys – "15 months and a five-year-old, there's not a thing safe in the house!" – winning another Leinster title with the club is his priority.

They beat Meath champions Skryne in the 2004 final and Garrycastle in 2009, but Dublin teams remain Portlaoise's big bogey. They lost last year's final to Ballymun; St Brigid's beat them in extra-time in the 2011 semi-finals and Kilmacud ousted them in the 2010 quarter-finals.

He can still vividly remember their 2007 Leinster semi-final defeat by Vins, capped off by future Dublin manager Pat Gilroy waltzing through their defence to score a late goal.

They were mortified to go down by 1-8 to 3-13 after losing Zach Touhy to a second yellow card in the 26th minute and the Aussies Rules star, who lined out for them in this year's county final but has since returned to Oz, has undoubtedly been a big loss.

TILT

"This year we were probably written off in our own county," McCormack admits ahead of their latest tilt at Leinster.

"We'd lost a lot of league games and lads had gone travelling or committed to the hurling at the start of the summer, but that meant a lot of U-21s have come in and we've got a much bigger panel now," McCormack stresses.

Paul Cahillane spent the summer in America, but is back terrorising defenders again and Healy, who has declared his desire to go travelling next year, won't buy any flights until the club's latest odyssey ends.

"A few years ago people were saying that we didn't have the panel, that we were relying on the bare 16-17 players, but seven of the boys played in the county U-21 final last Saturday and that helps," McCormack adds.

Once again Portlaoise proved how difficult 'the Town' are to beat in a final.

Their U-21s weren't fancied against Killeshin-Crettyard, but the next generation, led by Martin Staunton, won another county title by a two-goal margin.

Now comes the ultimate test – to finally get one over on some Dubs.

"Yeah, the statistics do prove we haven't got on well against them over the last five or six years, but surely our luck's going to change one year soon!" McCormack says.

"Let's hope so on Sunday."

Irish Independent

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