There’s any amount of talented young Laois people making strides in various fields and we’ve picked out 15 of them to keep an eye on in 2018.
Gaelic Football – Diarmuid Whelan
Two years ago Whelan was full-forward on the Laois minor football team that reached a first Leinster final in nine years, last year he was a star operator at midfield. Since he has excelled with Ballyroan-Abbey in the Laois senior football championship and now he has been rewarded with a place in John Sugrue’s senior panel.
There’s quite a lot of young forwards looking to make the breakthrough – Colm Murphy, Sean Moore and Aaron Dowling to name just a few – but Whelan looks a promising forward who can win his own ball and kick off both foot. A big 2018 season lies ahead.
Hurling – Liam Delaney
Delaney was exceptional for Abbeyleix in their run to the Laois SHC semi-final last year and has earned a call-up to the county senior hurling panel on the back of his performances.
A dual player who has played underage at both codes for the county, he is a towering presence and a physical operator. He made his senior debut on Saturday last as a second-half sub in the Walsh Cup win over Kildare. He should be in the mix for further exposure in the National Hurling League.
GAA Officialdom – Fergal Byron
Byron is the first former inter-county player to be elected to Laois County Board since Gabriel Lawlor in the late 1970s and news of his election as the new Coaching Officer has been warmly received.
Byron’s credentials for the coaching role are exemplary but there is more to being on the executive and he’ll have a lot of meetings and committments that will be new to him. Will he take to it? Will he be interested in rising through the county board ranks? He’s worth keeping an eye on.
Refereeing – Seamus Mulhare
2017 was a good year for The Heath’s Seamus Mulhare as he refereed his first Laois county final – the replayed intermediate football decider between Emo and Portlaoise – and continues to rise up through the ranks on the intercounty scene.
He has refereed Leinster minor championship, O’Byrne Cup and was recently linesman in the Leinster club final between Moorefield and St Loman’s. Young, fit, a good communicator and a long-serving senior club footballer, he ticks all the boxes for what the GAA are looking for in referees. Expect to see him land a couple more high-profile games in 2018.
Basketball – Maeve Phelan
Two Portlaoise Panthers players went all the way to a European U-18 basketball final with Ireland last summer and while the unfortunate Clare Melia has since been struck down by the dreaded cruciate curse, Maeve Phelan will be on course to excel in that same competition again as she’s underage once more.
The Scoil Chriost Ri Portlaoise student is a phenomenal talent and she should even improve more over the next 12 months.
Camogie – Molly O’Connor
The Harps girl Molly O’Connor was exceptional for the Laois camogie team as they won the All Ireland U-16 ‘B’ title in 2017, the second national honour for her to claim as she also triumphed in the All Ireland handball championship.
She’ll go up the grades this year but for a player compared to Kilkenny’s Tommy Walsh in style, she should make a huge contribution for club and county.
Music – Curtis Walsh
Singer-songwriter Curtis Walsh is certainly a huge music act to look out for in 2018.
He has already supported well-known acts like The Academic, Wyvern Lingo, Raglans and The Blizzards. He has also played his own performances playing his own songs in the hopes of pursuing a full-time music career.
In mid-2017, he signed to Milestone Management in Dublin.
He played his second Electric Picnic performance in 2017, and is currently creating material for his debut EP being released early 2018.
Fashion – Alison McEvoy
Alison McEvoy is a young Abbeyleix designer who makes her own organic childrenswear. She won €4,000 as part of the Fuelling Ambition competition earlier this year.
Her prize fund included attendance at Enterprise Ireland’s Excel at Export Selling training programme, annual membership of Network Ireland, a leadership training programme with the Entrepreneurs Academy and 10 mentoring sessions with Enterprise Ireland’s mentors.
Politics – Vivienne Phelan
You’ll always hear it said that young people aren’t interested or engaged in politics, something that is always disputed by the young people who are.
Young Stradbally woman Vivienne Phelan – a veterinary student in UCD – is someone who’s rising through the ranks of Fine Gael, now serving on the National Executive of Young Fine Gael as the Director of Organisational Development, Women’s Engagement and Recruitment.
At the party’s recent selection convention in Laois, she proposed and spoke in favour of Charlie Flanagan and you’ll no doubt see more of her as a General Election comes into focus. Indeed the party is well served in Laois with young women with Thomasina Connell also a visible presence and now well established.
Ladies Rugby – Eimear Corri
Alison Miller has flown the flag for Laois on the women’s rugby scene for the past decade and shows no sign of slowing up or letting up with another international season on the horizon.
But the Portlaoise club have produced a number of other exciting talents, chief amongst them Eimear Corri who is playing with Blackrock in Dublin and was part of the Leinster squad for the recent inter-pros. She should make even further progress in 2018.
Soccer – Colin Conroy
A former Portlaoise AFC player who now plies his trade in Dublin with St Kevin’s Boys. Conroy was recently capped by the Republic of Ireland at U-15 level where he had the honour of captaining his country in one of two friendlies against Poland at the end of 2017.
Soccer in Laois is really on the rise. Stradbally’s Garry Comerford and Clonaslee’s Niall Corbet will be part of the Waterford FC team which will compete in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland this year for example.
And while we will be following their progress keenly, we make Conroy the one to watch in this sphere for 2018.
Rugby – Conor Kelly
Eoghan Masterson has his eye on an Ireland call-up and his younger brother Sean (they are both on the books at Connachth) will almost certainly be involved with the Ireland U-20 team for a second season in the upcoming 6 Nations having played at U-19 and U-20 level last year.
But Portlaoise native Conor Kelly is making strides too and featured for the Ireland U-20 team in a game against a Munster selection over Christmas. Kelly, capped at schools level by Ireland last year, is part of the Sub Academy in Leinster and has got game time with Clontarf, one of the country’s top clubs, in AIL Division 1A.
Athletics – Avril Deegan
Laois has produced a number of top athletes over the years and Avril Deegan from the BallyroanAbbeyleix and District Athletic Club is certainly well worth keeping an eye on.
Running with her school Presentation Thurles, she won gold in the All Ireland senior girls 3000m in June of last year and bronze in 1500m on the same day. She was the only Laois athlete to win gold at the All Ireland track and fields in 2017.
Now studying in DCU, she ran at senior level in the Laois Cross Country in December, where she took bronze.
Actor/Model – George Blue
Mountmellick man George made the big move to LA to in the hopes to pursue a career in modelling and acting.
The 18 year old previously modelled with ‘Not Another Agency’ but made the move overseas in the hopes to get more experience.
He is now attending an acting school in Hollywood and has joined the Photogenic modelling agency in LA.
Influencer – Dylan Brennan
We here all the time about ‘influencers’ now and they really are a thing.
One of them, Dylan Brennan, is from Portlaoise and has amassed almost 26,000 followers on Instagram.
Here, companies get him to endorse their products.
And in some cases, he is provided with a discount codes which his audience can use to avail of items from the aforementioned companies.
Not a bad little money spinner for a fella who only completed his Leaving Cert in 2017.
Make-up artist – Niamh Brown
Any Laois girls who love their make-up when inevitably have heard of Niamh Brown.
The Portlaoise native works at Urban Decay in Limerick and has also set up a base here at the bottom of Main Street Portlaoise.
She has gained a huge following on Instagram and getting an appointment with her at short notice is like getting a reception with the Queen, so book well in advance!