LAOIS' last National League title came 25 years ago in 1986. Portlaoise man Tom Prendergast was an integral part of the team and he is under no illusions as to how difficult it is to win football silverware at a national level.
"It's very hard to win an All-Ireland. You'll always dream of it but often it feels so far away, it's so difficult to get anywhere near it," says Prendergast. "But winning the league was a great thrill, not just for us players but for everyone in the county."
Today Laois take on Donegal in the National League Division 2 final. Prendergast has supported his county every step of the way, regularly travelling to watch them play and so far this season Derry is the only game he's missed.
"I went to watch them training last Tuesday night; they are very fit, disciplined and skilful," says Prendergast. "I think on the day they can win it but it will be a different game than the last time the two sides met. Donegal were already through so they didn't really have anything to play for. They held back anyone with slight injuries and the referee didn't really let the game flow."
Twenty-five years ago, Laois beat Monaghan by a point (2-6 to 2-5) in the League final. Monaghan were vying for back-to-back titles and were favourites going into the decider. Winning gave a great lift to both players and supporters in Laois. However, a few weeks after that victory, disaster struck. They got knocked out in the first round of the Leinster championship by Wicklow in a game that is remembered as the 'battle of Aughrim'. "We had three men sent off, myself included. I remember it was a roasting hot day and the game got away from us. A few incidents occurred that probably shouldn't have."
There was no back door then so Prendergast often found himself idle early in the summer months. But luckily for him Portlaoise were a strong club and they nearly always kept him occupied for the rest of the year. During a club career that spanned 17 years, he won ten county championships, seven Leinster club titles and one All-Ireland club medal.
Prendergast was a garda for 30 years but is now retired. He was involved in coaching for a number of years. He finished up his involvement with the Portlaoise seniors in 2007 when they won the county title but kept up his involvement in the underage set-up, leading the Féile team to Division 3 All-Ireland glory in 2009.
Sunday Indo Sport