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Portlaoise seek to ease the pain of last year's final loss

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Zach Tuohy

Zach Tuohy

SPORTSFILE

Zach Tuohy

THERE are not many teams who have won eight county titles on the spin and still have a point to prove, but Portlaoise definitely fall into that category.

Despite that impressive string of domestic championships, the midland giants have been a disappointment in Leinster, failing to build any type of dynasty, a task that, on paper, they looked well capable of.

At times they were just sheer unlucky, losing to Dublin opposition for the past four years, for instance. They fell to Kilmacud Crokes in 2010, then St Brigid's in 2011, Ballymun Kickhams in the 2012 final, and St Vincent's in last year's final. By now those losses have almost overshadowed the provincial glories they captured in 2004 and 2009. Meanwhile, it's now over three decades since the club won its first and only All-Ireland title.

And yet, with seven provincial titles to their name (1971, '76, '82, '85, '87, 2004 and '09), they remain at the head of the Leinster SFC roll of honour, with today's opponents, St Vincent's, hot on their heels with five and intent on a sixth.

There's a theory that the heavy pitches at this time of year do little to facilitate Portlaoise's slick, attacking style of football, but with time running out for some of their quality players, it would be a clear underachievement if they didn't manage to land another Leinster crown.

"Maybe around the county, other clubs might feel we could have gone further over the years, and I suppose that would be the view around the province as well," Craig Rogers told this newspaper last year. "But the bottom line is the players themselves feel there is a lot more in the tank and we know we should be going further. We don't need others to tell us that. There is serious motivation within the squad to make that happen."

That step-up could come today. Despite the fact that they face the Dublin champions, who possess arguably the best player in Ireland right now in Diarmuid Connolly, and have Ger Brennan back in their ranks, the Laois men are well equipped to cause a shock in their own back yard.

Inter-county hurling star Cahir Healy, Barry and Tommy Fitzgerald and Paul Cahillane are all back in tow and hungry after missing early parts of the season. The past 12 months have been challenging for the Laois champions - they were pushed hard in last year's county final and with a heap of players missing, through travelling or others committing to hurling, they lost a lot of league games earlier this season.

Thus, not many gave them a chance of retaining their crown, but maybe it's that lack of expectation which could ultimately see them shock Vincent's, even if the Dublin champions are clear favourites.

Former Laois attacker Brian McCormack is once again in tremendous form and played a pivotal role in their extra-time quarter-final win over Longford Slashers when he moved to the edge of the square, snatching 1-2 in the space of just eight minutes.

There may also be a role for Zach Tuohy, the AFL player. Tuohy didn't play for the club in the county final as he had returned to Australia for a wedding, but he has weeks of training in the bank and will be a serious option if and when needed against the Dublin giants. Remember that Tuohy has already played in the Laois quarter- and semi-finals.

The team's manager, Tommy Conroy, also has unfinished business - he was in charge of the club when they fell by two points to David Brady's Ballina Stephenites in the 2004/'05 final, so across the board there's a lot to fight for.

They are a tight bunch, and their struggles off the field look to have galvanised them. They might be still recovering from serious debts of five years ago when the proposed €19 million sale of their 17.2-acre site next to O'Moore Park fell through, but they have kept the show on the road and while the underachiever tag is constantly slapped on them, they do have those eight county championships to boast of.

Here is a chance to lay down a huge marker, however, in a repeat of last year's provincial final when Portlaoise went to the wire before falling. They must have looked on in envy as Vincent's surged forward to land the All-Ireland on St Patrick's Day.

The hurt of that narrow loss - and the Leinster championship pain of the past five to six years, will have to ease at some stage. Balm may well be applied to their sores today.

Sunday Indo Sport