The Laois and Offaly footballers do battle in Bord na Mona O’Connor Park tomorrow afternoon with a lot at stake for both sides.
If Laois win they remain in the hunt for promotion and in the process leave Offaly in serious danger of relegation.
If Offaly win, it’ll end Laois’s promotion hopes and quite possibly drag John Sugrue’s men into a relegation battle with Offaly going into the final round of the Allianz Football League Division 3 games.
It’s only two years since Offaly relegated Laois to Division 4 on the last day of the season so that is fresh in the memory here too.
Here we look back at some big moments in the Laois-Offaly rivaly since the turn of the milennium.
All the games are since 2002, meaning that the 1981 Leinster final – arguably the biggest game ever between the midlands rivals – isn’t included.
2002 – Late Offaly winner denies Laois in Tullamore
Back in the late ’90s and early ’00s, Offaly were a force on the national stage, winning the Leinster title in 1997, the Division 1 league title in 1998 and recording significant knockout championship wins in 1999 (v Kildare, All Ireland finalists the year before) and in 2000 (v Meath, All Ireland champions the year before) in the days before the Qualifiers.
They beat Laois in Croke Park in 2001 and then the counties squared up in the quarter-final in Tullamore in May 2002. Laois had a team full of the 1996-1998 minor generation but Offaly did just enough to pull through, a sideline ball from Paschal Kelleghan in the dying minutes helping Offaly to a 0-13 to 2-6 win.
Laois’s goals that day came from a Chris Conway penalty and one from play from Brian McDonald.
Laois were later beaten in the All Ireland Qualifiers by Meath.
2003 Part 1 – Drama in O’Moore Park as old rivals draw
2003 will never be forgotten in Laois as the Leinster-winning season – but their Leinster campaign could well have been over that year nearly before it started had Offaly held on for a narrow win in the quarter-final in O’Moore Park.
Laois were poor for long spells that day and it looked as if a screamer of a goal from Ciaran McManus (did he mean it?) was going to be the difference between the sides.
But with time almost up, Laois launched a high ball into the square which was won by Kevin Fitzpatrick. The Portlaoise man played on almost every line of the field for Laois over the years but that day he was full-forward and he caught it brilliantly and passed to Michael Lawlor, who crashed home a cracker of a goal.
Offaly argued that Fitzpatrick threw the ball but the goal stood and Laois were a point up heading for injury time.
There was still time for drama however as Offaly were awarded a late ’45 and McManus held his nerve to fire over the equaliser. The sides drew 1-12 apiece and would have to meet in Tullamore a week later.
2003 Part 2 – Laois get the job done in Tullamore
Following the drama of O’Moore Park, the sides did battle again in Tullamore eight days later on the June Bank Holiday Monday.
Another sign of Laois being the new darlings of the media, with the endless fascination with Mick O’Dwyer showing no sign of letting up, the game was again on RTE.
Another huge crowd descended on Tullamore on a day when we got all sorts of weather.
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 Laois beat Dublin, then Kildare for a first Leinster title since 1946. Magical times.
2005 – Late Munnely goal earns Laois dramatic win in Croker
Laois and Offaly met for the fourth time in five championship seasons in 2005 – and as the game headed for injury time it looked as if Offaly were going to knock Laois out at the first hurdle.
As the game entered injury time, Offaly led by 1-8 to 0-10, having been six points up at half time.
It was a game that saw Colm Begley, in his first year out of minor, make his first senior championship start.
But the headlines belonged to another player who is still on the scene – as Ross Munnelly snuck in for a dramatic late winning goal that won the game for Laois.
Laois would go on to play out a classic Leinster final against Dublin before losing to Armagh in the All Ireland quarter-final.
2005 – Leinster minor joy for Laois
For the third year running in 2005, the Laois minor footballers made it to the Leinster final.
They actually won the 2003 All Ireland final after losing the Leinster final and in 2004 they breezed through Leinster before losing to Kerry narrowly in the All Ireland semi-final.
In 2005, with Andy Shortall in as manager instead of Sean Dempsey who was now over the U-21s, Laois recorded a big win over Dublin in the Leinster semi-final and then proved too strong for Offaly in Croke Park.
Among the players on that minor team were Richie Ryan from Ballylinan who captained the side, Cathal Og Greene and the Delaney twins from Park-Ratheniska, Sean O’Shea (then Arles-Kilcruise but now Killeen), Scott Conroy from Ballyroan and Stephen O’Leary from O’Dempsey’s.
Laois won 1-12 to 1-7 but were beaten by Kerry in the All Ireland quarter-final.
2006 – Qualifier adventure continues in Portlaoise
While Laois didn’t get their hands on any silverware in 2006 it was a hugely eventful season, one that saw them reach a Division 1 league semi-final against Kerry in Killarney and then go through a championship campaign that saw them play an unprecedented seven games – including three of them at O’Moore Park.
A huge loss to Dublin in the Leinster semi-final could have derailed Laois completely but they recovered to record a famous win over All Ireland champions Tyrone in Portlaoise.
They then beat Meath in Navan before squaring up against an Offaly side coming off a Leinster final loss to Dublin.
Again it was on TV, again a huge crowd showed up but for the third time in four years, Laois were on the winning side.
On a really windy day, Laois led 0-5 to 0-3 at half time but it could have been more had Fergal Byron’s powerfully-struck penalty not gone over the bar.
It remained tight throughout the second half before a 60th minute Padraig Clancy goal helped Laois to a 1-9 to 0-4 win and set up an All Ireland quarter-final meeting with Mayo.
2007 – Home comforts for U-21s
The incredible era of underage success continued in 2007 with Laois winning the Leinster U-21 title for the second season running. Later that summer, they’d also win the Leinster minor title.
In April of that year, Laois and Offaly met in the Leinster U-21 final – with a side managed by Sean Dempsey and captained by Cahir Healy were 0-13 to 1-7 winners.
It was Laois’s eighth Leinster U-21 title which at the time put them level with Kildare on top of the roll of honour.
Kildare have since won two more with Dublin winning seven out of ten before the competition was switched to U-20 level for last season.
2017 – Relegation woes as Laois hit a new low
This time two years ago, Laois and Offaly played out a hugely entertaining game in Tullamore.
The counties had rarely met at such a low level with Offaly’s narrow one-point win consigning Laois to Division 4 football for the first time in 50 years.
Donie Kingston scored a whopping 3-4 that day but ended up on the losing side with Laois narrowly missing out on a draw as Darren Strong’s late effort tailed just wide. In the end Laois lost 3-15 to 4-11.
Laois were under the management of Peter Creedon at the time and while they recorded a decent championship win over Longford, they later suffered big losses to Kildare and Clare and Creedon stepped down after just one year in the role, to be replaced by John Sugrue.