A number of new faces are currently involved with the Laois senior footballers as they prepare for the 2018 season.
Manager John Sugrue was appointed to the role in September and has been working with a large group of players in recent weeks in terms of trials and strength and conditioning work.
With Portlaoise and Emo exiting the Leinster club championship in recent weeks, their players have also linked up with the current setup. Indeed it’s believed that up to 10 Portlaoise players are in the mix at the moment including Brian Glynn, who missed this year’s championship with The Town but has returned to live and work locally after a number of years based in England.
2017 county minor Ronan McEvoy is also among the Portlaoise players being trialled as well as the likes of relative newcomers David Holland, Chris Finn and Ciaran McEvoy. More established players like Kieran Lillis, Graham Brody, Gareth Dillon and Paul Cahillane.
And Sugrue is showing that he’s going to leave no stone unturned trying to unearth players with his decision to give players like Slieve Bloom’s Ben Conroy an opportunity as well as trialling Courtwood’s Matthew Byron as a goalkeeper.
Byron will only turn 18 in 2018 and has played most of his underage football out field but he is a lovely striker of the ball and as the son of former Laois keeper Fergal, the pedigree – and a home tutor – is there.
Among the other new faces involved are Aaron Forbes from Graiguecullen, goalkeeper Joe Walsh from The Heath, Rosenallis duo Ronan Murray and Ruadhri C Fennell, Ballyroan-Abbey’s Diarmuid Whelan and Portarlington’s Paddy O’Sullivan, Robbie Piggott and Colm Murphy.
While Donie Kingston has decided not to join up with the panel for the time being and Kevin Meaney has called time on his county playing days, a number of the more experienced players have committed including Ross Munnelly, Colm Begley, Darren Strong, Mark Timmons, Brendan Quigley and John O’Loughlin.
Padraig McMahon, whose wife had their third child recently, and Niall Donoher, who got married in October, haven’t been involved just yet either. David Conway has undergone a knee injury and will be ruled out of the early part of the league while James Finn won’t be involved as he’s now working in Abu Dhabi.
Speaking to LaoisToday recently, John Sugrue said that he’s hoping to give as many players as possible an opportunity to see if they’re up to the standard.
“It’s a long off season in Laois and a lot of lads wouldn’t have played since they were knocked out of the club championship. So we’d like to give lads time with us to give them a good chance.”
Sugrue added that with playing resources limited in Laois, it was important to look at every option. While he acknowledged that Kingston’s decision is a blow, he says the door is open for a return. And he said it might also see some other players rise to a new level.
Looking to the 2018 season – which will actually begin on Saturday, December 30, against Westmeath in the O’Byrne Cup – he’s looking at promotion from Division 4 and a good run in the championship.
“I think promotion from the league is a good target and I think we can compete well with any team from Division 2 down.”
Sugrue, who played underage with his native Kerry and played and managed South Kerry to a number of Kerry championships, has been living in Laois in recent years. Married to Susan Fingleton, he transferred to Park-Ratheniska in 2012 and the couple are living locally with their young family.
“I want to help create a positive atmosphere around Laois football,” he added. “I’m living here and this is where I’m going to be long-term. I’d have no interest going off to manage some other county but hopefully I can help make a difference to football in Laois over the next while.”