This Sunday the Laois footballers will make the short trip to Tullamore for a must-win game in the final round of the Allianz Football League Division 3.
Lose and Laois drop to Division 4. O’Connor Park in Tullamore is a venue that Laois are very familiar with over the years. The county teams have experienced mixed emotions there – beating Dublin and Meath there in championship games in the 1980s, playing out memorable minor and U-21 sagas against Westmeath there in the 1990s and then a range of games through the 2000s. More recently it hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Laois football teams.
Losing to Westmeath in Tullamore on a Bank Holiday Monday in 2000 signalled the end of Tom Cribbin’s reign as manager (the same Cribbin who has enjoyed a managerial renaissance in recent years with Westmeath) while Kildare (2009 and 2014) and Meath (2010) also inflicted big defeats on Laois at the Offaly venue.
But there have been good times in recent years too, like beating Meath in a Round 4 qualifier game in 2012. But one of our favourite games goes back to that magical summer of 2003 and a Leinster quarter-final replay against Offaly.
The sides drew in O’Moore Park seven days earlier. A cracking Mick Lawlor goal late on looked likely to be a dramatic winning score before Ciaran McManus landed an equaliser from a ’45 in injury time.
So they reconvened in Tullamore the following Sunday. Live on RTE – in a sign of Laois’s growing popularity under Mick O’Dwyer – an Ian Fitzgerald goal early on helped Laois build up a six-point lead but the harsh dismissal of Paul McDonald swung the game back in favour of Offaly as the game headed for the final 20 minutes.
But a second Laois goal – from Brian ‘Beano’ McDonald – settled Laois and they held on to win 2-10 to 0-13, for their first win over Offaly in Tullamore since 1968.
Two weeks later they’d beat Dublin in Croke Park, the following month the county decamped to Jones Road for the Leinster final showdown with Kildare and then an early-August battle with All Ireland champions Armagh.
It seems like a life time ago now and a lot has changed for Laois and Offaly football in the meantime.
Sunday’s game is the first big clash in Tullamore between the two since. There’s something a lot different about this one but it’s massively important in its own right too.
To lift your mood on this dreary Thursday morning we’ve unearthed some of the great Sportsfile images from that day in June 2003.