When Kieran Kelly took on the Park-Ratheniska manager’s job at the start of 2020 he knew they were in a place they really shouldn’t have been.
Relegated from intermediate in 2014, they’d been beaten in the 2016 junior final as well as semi-finals in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019. In five of those six seasons they’d been beaten by the eventual champions.
The Ballylinan man, and former county player, had been involved as a selector with Laois in 2016 and with his own club when they reached the 2017 senior final as well as managing Rheban across the Kildare border.
But he knew from first-hand experience of playing against Park-Ratheniska that the raw material was there to win the junior.
They eventually did that last June in the delayed 2020 final – and now find themselves within touching distance of going senior for the first time since the mid 1990s.
Speaking on this week’s Talking Sport Podcast, he reflected on the junior semi-final and final earlier this year as a massive turning point.
“They’d been beaten in semi-finals and finals. Against Ballyroan in Timahoe (in the 2020 junior semi-final) you could feel the pressure was there and even getting over that hurdle was a little bit off the shoulders. And to get over the line against Portlaoise as well.”
Since that he agrees they’ve been flying it and that the club have been “doing huge work and it’s beginning to pay off”.
“In fairness, coming off any final win, the tails were up. Lads were mad for football. They got over the hurdle of getting out of Junior A and it just took off. I can’t really explain it but lads playing with a freedom and long may it continue.”
The big early round intermediate championship wins were followed up with a serious battle against Arles-Kilcruise, one that went right to the wire, and he’s now hoping they can finish the job on Friday.
“I expected nothing else from Arles-Kilcruise,” he added. “We finished the game strong, our fitness levels told in the end and Kieran (Delaney) in fairness took the game by the scruff of the neck and kicked a couple of vital scores.”
Another big battle awaits.
The Laois IFC final between Mountmellick and Park-Ratheniska takes place in O’Moore Park at 7.30pm on Friday night.