Split decision doesn't diminish Kilcruise's fight
In the early 1990s, an idea was mooted in the Laois villages of Arles and Ballylinan to join forces and have one senior football team. Their underage teams already played as one and were very successful, so an amalgamation of the adult teams under the new name St Michael's seemed the logical next step for the two small neighbouring villages.
However, in typical GAA fashion, the union didn't go to plan. A disagreement about the name ensued, a season of championship football was lost and the end result was that instead of having one new club for the area, they now had three.
Ballylinan remained as it was and Arles split in two, and they now play as Arles-Kilcruise and Arles-Killeen.
Chris Conway, the former Laois inter-county player, was just breaking onto the senior scene at that time. He recalls the effect it had on the parish, how hard it was on families and on the older players who were looking to break onto the county team at the time and had no shop window to help them along.
"When the clubs reformed, we decided to start off at the lowest division which at that time was junior B," says Conway. "I was young so I wasn't really affected but it was hard for the older players who were used of playing at a higher level."
The three clubs have their pitches within a couple of miles of each other. Their catchment area is shared so the pool is small. At present, the three clubs have one combined underage team and when the players reach the appropriate age for senior they affiliate as they please.
Arles-Kilcruise is the only one of the three to win the senior county title since the split; they did this in 2003 after progressing through from junior B.
And they contest the county title again but are underdogs as Portlaoise are going for six county titles in a row having won their semi-final by 19 points.
The defending champions progressed to the final with relative ease, overcoming Crettyard, Portarlington after a replay, Stradbally and St Joseph's, with Brian McCormack and Paul Cahillane both firing 1-5 each in the last game.
However, Conway isn't fazed by their records or their scorelines. Although they have lost in the championship to Portlaoise for the last three years, it's never been by much.
And as for their opponents' domination of the championship in recent times, the Kilcruise captain feels that the other clubs in the county need to work harder on the field to stop it.
"They are a very strong team and club but that is something we have to aim for," explains Conway. "We know that as a club we have to raise the bar for ourselves instead of just giving out that they have such a big pick and catchment area. We should look after what we can control and that's ourselves and getting into the best position we can so that we can deliver a performance that will help us succeed."
But would Portlaoise have been prevented from dominating the championship to such an extent if Arles had stayed together?
"That's obviously possible but it's also possible that I might not have the senior medal that I have if we hadn't split," he says.
"A lot of clubs have lost players over the years but we've managed to hold ours and so have Killeen. This could have a lot to do with the local rivalry that exists between the clubs; if we hadn't split that might not have been the case."
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