Laois SFC – Ballylinan v St Joseph’s
In O’Moore Park at 7pm
Nine days later that originally scheduled, Ballylinan and St Joseph’s do battle in the Laois senior football championship in O’Moore Park this evening.
Postponed due to a bereavement in the St Joseph’s area, the local rivals convene in O’Moore Park for the final opening round game.
For the winners, a Round 2 game against Ballyroan-Abbey awaits next weekend; the losers must go up against Clonaslee with the prospect of relegation still hanging over them.
Across all 16 games played in the senior, intermediate and junior grades so far, not one of them have been won by the lower-ranked league team.
That’s a trend Ballylinan are trying to buck here – though on paper it’s the Division 1A champions against a side that did just about enough to stay up in Division 1B.
But Ballylinan, despite historically not even having a fraction of the success enjoyed by St Joseph’s, have won the last two championship meetings between the club – in 2017 and 2014.
That 2017 win, when Ballylinan would later go on to contest the county final, was by nine points.
But Ballylinan were going well then; Joseph’s are going well now.
Joseph’s, who are now in the third year under Mick Dempsey, are understandable favourites.
They’ve a big panel, are relatively injury free and have added a handful of quality new players this year, chief among them former Kildare player Eoghan O’Flaherty.
Talk of winning a championship might be a step too far but they do need to push on – they’ve been knocked out by Portlaoise in five of the past six seasons – and apart from a semi-final appearance in 2018, they haven’t consistently even been in the last four.
Ballylinan only survived at senior last year thanks to a thrilling relegation final win over The Heath and former Kildare player Tadhg Fennin has made the short trip over the border to take over from Mick Lillis who was in charge for the past two seasons.
Their performances were very patchy in the league though they did show flashes of their potential.
Gary Walsh will take considerable minding (though Joseph’s, you feel, have a couple of options in that regard while Cathail Dunne, the Farrells and Fennessys are all fine players too.
But Joseph’s are in a better place right now and it would be a considerable surprise if they were turned over today.
Prediction: St Joseph’s