The Laois SFC semi-finals take place this Sunday in O’Moore Park with two really interesting contests ahead.
Portlaoise take on Ballyroan-Abbey in the first game at 2pm with champions Portarlington meeting Emo at 3.30pm.
Here we look at the remaining four teams – how they’ve got here, who’s done most of their scoring, and their strengths, weaknesses and odds:
Story so far
After winning the delayed 2020 final with a somewhat comfortable victory over Graiguecullen, they have since eased through the championship with wins over Ballyfin, Courtwood and Stradbally.
In a star-studded team that includes top Laois forward Colm Murphy, it is actually corner forward Jake Foster who leads the way with 0-16 – averaging just more than 0-5 per game.
In the last two years, Portarlington have only conceded one goal in the championship. That came via Jack Cleary of Ballyfin in the delayed 2020 semi final.
There are many things to like about Portarlington – but the depth of their panel has to be the most impressive feature of their team.
At present, Colin Slevin, Jordan Fitzpatrick, Eoin McCann and Stephen O’Neill are among those who have to be content with places on the bench. We’d be fairly confident that each of those would start on the other three remaining teams.
There is nothing obvious that jumps out here. You could say that they don’t put up huge scores – but their defence is so good that this isn’t really an issue.
Championship odds: 4/5
Story so far
After losing the 2020 semi final to Graiguecullen, they also lost Round 1 to O’Dempsey’s. Were somewhat fortunate to defeat The Heath and Rosenallis subsequently but were excellent against Graigeucullen in the quarter final two weeks ago.
As Emo have played one more game than the other quarter finalists (except for Portlaoise), it is perhaps not a surprise that Paddy Hosey, with 3-14, is the highest scoring player left in the championship.
Aside from the Round 1 loss to O’Dempsey’s, Emo have scored at least one goal in each of their championship matches this year.
Two against The Heath, three against Rosenallis and one against Graiguecullen – goals help you win games.
Emo’s pace is something that can trouble any team. Finbarr Crowley, Padraig Kirwan, Sean Greene and Nigel Murphy are all powerful ball carriers who can trouble any team.
Emo’s tendency to blow hot and cold is probably their biggest weakness. Poor in last year’s semi final, they were good in the league and won Division 1B before putting in three indifferent championship displays prior to the Graiguecullen win two weeks ago.
Championship odds: 7/1
Story so far
Beaten quarter finalists in 2020, Portlaoise have reached this stage by being resilient rather than brilliant.
Defeated by Courtwood in Round 1, they staged a late comeback to defeat Ballyfin in Round 2. They then edged out St Joseph’s before requiring extra time to see off O’Dempsey’s the last day.
Scoring has been Portlaoise’s problem and Paul Cahillane’s 1-9 is their highest but is also the lowest high of the four remaining teams.
Portlaoise have used more players this season than any of the teams that are remaining – 24 in total.
Michael O’Connell, Ben Dempsey, Josh Hogan, Ben Reddin, Kevin Swayne, Josh Hogan, DJ White and Michael Culliton have all been handed debuts as the age profile of the team has started to change.
Portlaoise have used their bench effectively in all of their games – and none-more-so than in the last round against O’Dempsey’s. They made four changes by the 36th minute and those players contributed 1-9 of their total.
Portlaoise’s accuracy in front of goal has been their achilles heel all season. They have amassed double figure wides in each of their championship matches and must correct this if they want to have any chance of being successful.
Championship odds: 11/4
Story so far
Tipped by some as outsiders for the championship, Ballyroan-Abbey have not disappointed and won all three of their games to date. They were relatively comfortable in Round 1 against Killeshin before requiring extra time against St Joseph’s. A strong second half saw them past Courtwood the last day.
With Diarmuid Whelan now operating at midfield, cousin Brian Whelan has picked up the scoring duties and leads the way with 1-13.
2021 was the first time in three years that Ballyroan-Abbey did not compete in the Minor A final with players from their 2018 and 2020 successes, along with their 2019 final defeat to Emo-Courtwood, now heavily featuring in the team.
Cathal Doyle, Shaun Fitzpatrick, Enda McWey, Davin McEvoy, Brian Whelan, Ciaran Byrne, Conor McWey and Conaire Gee have all come through those teams and cemented their place in the senior team.
Their youthful exuberance, mixed with experience from the likes of Padraig McMahon, Marty Scully, MJ Tierney and Scott Conroy, has been a joy to watch so far. They play with pace in attack and discipline in defence which makes life difficult for their opponents.
They can be wasteful at times. In the quarter final against Courtwood, they missed a lot of goal and point chances in the first half. They won’t get away with that as the championship gets to the crunch.
Championship odds: 13/2