Thursday 18 January 2018

Maher wants Laois minnows to aim for stars

Laois star Stephen Maher is hoping Clough-Ballacolla can build on their county title against Oulart-The Ballagh
Laois star Stephen Maher is hoping Clough-Ballacolla can build on their county title against Oulart-The Ballagh
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Maybe it was written in the stars for Clough-Ballacolla.

A century on from when the club, then known as Ballygeehan, rose to hurling's summit to win an All-Ireland for Laois, they were back on top of the pile in their own patch.

At one stage winning a Laois title in 2015 looked to be an outside bet. They found themselves six points down at half-time in the Laois decider against a Camross side, who had already beaten them in an earlier round of the championship.

Still, county star Stephen 'Picky' Maher knew they weren't done.

"We had been slow starters all year but were coming good in the second half," he said. "And there was a bit of a wind, so we knew we had been in that position before and could dig it out.

"They had beaten us at the start of the championship and it was a big setback for us. And we had to go back and rethink things. Thankfully it worked out for us in the final."

Winning this year's Laois title in honour of the men of 1915 had been mentioned at the start of the year but it was parked then. Aiming for such landmarks can often weigh heavy on a team.

And although this year's win was the club's third title in seven years, there was no chance of it being taken for granted. Before 2009, they had gone more than 90 years without winning one.

Maher was to the fore in their latest triumph. While Zane Keenan was pulling the strings for Camross, Maher amassed an 11-point haul to add to his growing reputation.

Now Maher and his team-mates stick their heads above the parapet in Leinster once more. Back in 2009, after they had ended their near century-long wait for a Laois crown, they couldn't get past Westmeath champions Clonkill.

In 2011, they fell short of ousting Wexford's Oulart-The Ballagh who are also their opponents once again tomorrow.

"We played them in Wexford Park in that (2011) game," recalled the 22-year-old. "And for a long time there was very little in that game. We had two lads sent off near the end though, at that point, the game was probably over."


Now, they renew their rivalry in Portlaoise. Oulart are a team on a mission. Wexford has largely been their domain of late, but time and again the Leinster Championship has found a way to confound them.

And Maher is hoping to add to their list of defeats.

"Oulart are a very experienced team," he said. "You can see that in the way they have won so many county titles. They missed out in Wexford last year but have come back again and are regenerated and are stronger. They are probably looking down the line at winning a Leinster.

"We are coming in under the radar and it's not a bad position to be in. No one expects anything from us so look we're going into it - we know we can give a good representation of ourselves."

Irish Independent

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