Veteran Munnelly showing no signs of slowing down
Ross Munnelly emerges from the Laois dressing-room basking in the satisfaction of a Croke Park win and a piece of tin to take home on the bus. And it's immediately striking just how little the O'Moore veteran has changed since bursting on to the scene in 2003.
The Arles-Kilcruise clubman is in his 16th season with Laois, a longevity that sets him apart from most in the ever more attritional inter-county game.
But perhaps that service is all the more remarkable when it's considered that Saturday's Division 4 league final win was his first medal since he helped Laois to their sixth Leinster title in his debut season.
On Saturday, he played 63 minutes in the open spaces of Croke Park and hit four points (three from play). Afterwards his manager John Sugrue expressed no surprise at the fact that the 35-year-old was one of his most influential players.
"Ross is a footballer. Croke Park suits footballers, there's no need to say more than that," offered the Kerry native.
Munnelly insists that playing for Laois will be top of his list for as long as he's wanted.
"The body is good. Look, I mind myself, I've always said that playing for Laois is my priority, not just the nine months of the year that you're in season but the 12 months. To be honest with you, it's not a sacrifice," Munnelly reasoned.
"I do these things because I love playing for Laois. From my perspective it's far, far too long since we won a trophy. Although it's Division 4 it's important to get silverware and it's important for that group of players to come to Croke Park and win."
And despite the miles on the clock, Munnelly doesn't shirk any of the work.
"I do every single session," he explained. There's no different rules for me. I was back the very first day of pre-season like everyone else, straight back into it.
"There's no separate rules for me or anyone else.
"Anything the 18-year-olds are doing I'm doing. The important thing is minding yourself outside of training and I'm lucky enough that I can dedicate the time to do that. But look, today is about Laois, it's about the whole group.
"I didn't get to finish the game, there were young legs coming on and I think that's where we're fortunate at the moment, that we have a nice blend of players. Maybe there's some towards the end of their careers and some just starting.
"Laois are in a good place at the moment. But we're very realistic, it's a Division 4 title, Wexford are a Division 3 team. We have played nobody who is of Division 3 quality so far this year. Wexford are going to be a step up based on their league rankings at the start of the year."
Laois won't garner too many plaudits for winning in Division 4. Theirs has been a remarkable free-fall through the leagues, but with a little bit of momentum behind his side going into the clash with Wexford, Munnelly and Laois already have their eyes on championship.
"It's not that long ago really that we were playing in Division 1. We were relegated to Division 2 and there were a couple of years where we were holding our own. Then we had back-to-back relegations and that's not nice and it's not nice in the group to feel that, it does drain on the confidence.
"Sometimes, to be fair, you need to take a step back before you can go forward," he continued.
"We've taken that step back, we've rallied the troops, we've a good management team that's demanding the best out of the group every single night we go to training.
"Thankfully we were able to do what was asked of us in Division 4. Now we have to park that and concentrate on trying to progress ourselves in the Leinster championship because we haven't done that in quite a while."
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