The news that Mike Quirke would not be seeking a third term in charge of the Laois senior footballers was confirmed yesterday.
After a miserable 2021, the news of the Kerry man’s decision to depart was not unexpected.
But as quickly as that decision was made, attention will now turn to finding a replacement – and LaoisToday understands a meeting to set the wheels in motion on that process is scheduled at Laois County Board level this week.
As things currently stand, the outstanding 2020 championship is likely to be completed in early or mid-August with the 2021 edition set to begin in early September.
That gives the Laois County Board essentially two months to have a new manager in place before the new club championship begins – which would give that person the opportunity to get to as many games and see as many players as possible.
And to give that person the best possible start, it is imperative that this process is completed by that time at the latest.
Since Quirke’s departure, the talk on the ground among GAA people in Laois seems to indicate that the majority would favour an inside manager this time.
The reality is that a number of the Laois players who played against Westmeath are the wrong side of 30 and whether it happens now or over the next few seasons – a number of them will inevitably start to slip away.
So, a period of transition lies ahead of the footballers and the feeling seems to be that a person with in depth knowledge of the scene here in Laois would be best placed to steer that ship.
With that in mind, we have compiled a list of 16 internal candidates who we believe could fill the role:
The Kerry native and former Emo footballer played for Laois from 2005 to 2015 and was widely regarded as one of the team’s leaders.
He has a lot of coaching time built up over the years with UCD as well as spells with the Laois Ladies and Ballyroan-Abbey over the years.
Sheehan spent time coaching in the Cork senior setup in 2016 and 2017 under Peadar Healy and then became part of the Offaly backroom team under Stephen Wallace in 2018. In 2019, he coached Palatine to the Carlow final where they lost to Eire Og.
A former St Jude’s player in Dublin, he most recently played for Cratloe of Clare under Colm Collins and reached the county final in 2020 over there.
We suggested Eddie Kinsella for this job two years ago off the back of his club record where he had managed to get Courtwood promoted to senior.
Since then, he left Courtwood in 2020 to take up the job as Laois U-20 boss and led them to a Leinster final where they lost to Dublin.
Kinsella returned to Courtwood for this season and also stuck with the U-20s – but they are out after losing to Wicklow last week.
Kinsella’s passionate management style could be exactly what is required to get this team going again.
Former Laois player and captain in the 2004 season, Conway has built up a lot of coaching hours with Knockbeg College where he is a teacher.
Guided them to their first – and only – All Ireland ‘A’ title in 2005 and they are only Laois school consistently playing at the highest level.
A leader with his club Arles-Kilcruise for well over 20 years now too and while he is our football pundit on the Talking Sport Podcast as well as a regular co-commentator on Midlands 103 – we’d be happy to see him take over.
They say in life you should never go back – but we doubt there would be many Laois fans who wouldn’t like to have John Sugrue back.
The adopted Park-Ratheniska spent two years in charge of Laois and led them to back-to-back promotions from Division 4 and 3.
He also brought them to a first Leinster final appearance in more than a decade when they lost out to Dublin in 2018.
He has since managed the Kerry U-20s and is currently involved with the Laois senior hurlers as a physio.
One of Laois’s most ‘capped’ players, Padraig Clancy retired after the 2013 season having been involved non-stop since making his debut in 2001.
The Timahoe man has since moved into management, spending two years with Ballyroan-Abbey where they gained successive league promotions. He then spent two years over Graiguecullen and reached back-to-back championship semi finals but lost out to Portlaoise and O’Dempsey’s.
Stepped away from there in 2018 and returned as a selector in 2019 with his native Timahoe. But her returned to Ballyroan-Abbey in 2020 and is still in place now.
Like Billy Sheehan above, Clancy went for the job in 2017 but also lost out to Sugrue.
Ballyroan-Abbey native Eoin Kearns is building up a decent coaching CV.
He previously coached Sarsfields Ladies to Laois and Leinster championship glory before having a spell as player/manager with Ballyroan-Abbey.
He then took charge of Arles-Killeen in 2017 where they reached the quarter finals only to be beaten by Portarlington – the third time the sides had clashed that year after initially meeting in a Round 1 game that required a replay.
Before and in between that, Kearns also spent some years working with underage squads in Laois and has been involved in the recent minor successes that Ballyroan-Abbey have enjoyed.
From 2018 to 2020, Kearns was a selector under Sugrue and Quirke but he stepped away in 2021 to take up the manager’s position in O’Dempsey’s.
The Arles-Killeen footballer has seen his managerial stock rise in recent years – and guided the Laois U-20 footballers to the Leinster final in 2019 where they lost to Dublin/
O’Loughlin has managed DIT in the Sigerson Cup in recent years and has had a long association with the college before that.
He managed the college’s Freshers team and he guided them to back-to-back All Ireland titles in 2008 and 2009. He later joined the Sigerson Cup management alongside former Galway player Paul Clancy and was a selector and coach when they won an historic first title in 2013.
He most recently managed Sarsfields in Kildare.
A current Games Development Administrator with Laois GAA, Donie Brennan took his first steps into management with the Laois ladies last year.
After steadying the ship in 2020, he led them to silverware two weeks ago when they defeated Kildare in the Division 3 league final.
He has worked closely with underage squads over the years and was a selector with the Laois minors in 2018 and 2019. He certainly has an in depth knowledge of the younger players across the county.
Mick Dempsey and Joe Higgins
Joint managers are not really the norm anymore but we have two of them on the list and the first are the current St Joseph’s management team.
A former fan’s favourite, Joe Higgins has also managed Graiguecullen and brought Arles-Killeen to a county final in 2014. He also spent a time as manager of the Laois ladies football team.
Mick Dempsey has enjoyed an incredible sporting career as both player and manager in hurling and football.
He won six senior medals with St Joseph’s as a player, in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and was manager when they last won the senior title in 2000.
He also played for Laois for a long number of years and was on the team that won the National League in 1986. He later managed Laois in the late 1990s before winning a Leinster club title with O’Hanrahan’s in Carlow and then transitioning into hurling coaching and rising to a prominent role alongside Brian Cody and the great Kilkenny teams.
The only man who not either from or has played for Laois on the list, Martin Murphy’s managerial pedigree in the county speaks for itself.
The Offaly native led Stradbally to championship glory in 2005 and returned to deny Portlaoise ten-in-a-row in dramatic circumstances in 2016.
He joined Portarlington in 2019 and they are now firm favourites to win the 2020 championship as they currently sit in the semi finals. A serial winner, Murphy’s track record is very good.
While still playing for his club, Paul Lawlor served as a selector with the Laois footballers under Quirke this year.
Lawlor, who was in tremendous form in Emo’s run to the senior semi-final prior to the cancellation of games, guided Emo to intermediate success in 2017 when he was player-manager.
He also continued in that role in 2018 and 2019. As well as that he has been involved with St Paul’s at underage level in recent years, a role that would make him very familiar with the young players coming through in the county.
The Portlaoise native is Laois’s only hurling All Star and a man who played hurling, Gaelic football and basketball at a high standard.
A legend of the fine Laois hurling team of the 1980s, an All Ireland club football winner with Portlaoise in 1983 and a fine basketballer with the Portlaoise team in the national leagues in that decade also.
While he has also made an immense contribution to sport in this county and beyond in hurling, men’s and ladies football and basketball in his role as a coach.
In Scoil Chriost Ri, he has helped teams to All-Ireland glory in basketball and Ladies football.
While back in 2020, he coached IT Carlow to the Sigerson Cup final where they were defeated by DCU.
The man credited with Laois’s great spell of minor and U-21 teams from 2003 to 2007, he took over the senior job in 2009 and did two years before being let go after the 2010 season.
He hasn’t been involved with Laois county teams since but he has been involved with county teams in Carlow and Longford and a host of club teams – winning the Offaly championship with Ferbane in 2019.
He is currently double jobbing – managing Timahoe and Ballinteer St John’s in Dublin.
Donncha Phelan and Killian Fitzpatrick
The second of our double acts on this list are the current members of the Ballyfin management team.
They, alongside Stephen Duff, have led the club to back-to-back senior semi finals and they are set to face Portarlington next month in the 2020 edition.
Phelan spent two years in charge of the Laois minors – losing semi finals in 2018 and 2019 to eventual winners Meath and Kildare respectively.
Fitzpatrick is a teacher in Portlaoise CBS and has been coaching there for years too so once again, both men would have a good knowledge of young players in the county.
Another manager who has made a real name for himself at club level is Paddy Dunne.
He led Rosenallis to Junior Laois and Leinster glory in 2016 before departing in 2018. He returned in 2019 and saw them claim intermediate glory before maintaining their senior status last year.
The former The Rock player is manager once again this season as Rosenallis look to make a real impact at the grade.
Former Portlaoise player and manager Malachy McNulty was linked to this job in the past while he was managing in the county.
He departed Portlaoise after their 2018 win and became Rhode manager in 2020 – leading them to Offaly glory last year. He remains in that role now.