Laois vice-captain Joe Phelan has called on Croke Park to make further financialinvestment into hurling in the county and alter the Leinster championship to sustain their competitiveness.
There are fears that a third game in as many weeks could be one too many for Eddie Brennan’s men as they face Munster runners-up Tipperary on Sunday. Equally, they are not expected to retain their recently-claimed place in the Leinster senior hurling championship next year.
To ensure the feelgood story in the county continues, the GAA have to harness it and back it with resources, Phelan maintains.
“We want to be playing up a level. It would be tough on Laois to go up to the Leinster championship next year and go straight back down into the Joe McDonagh,” said Phelan.
“It’s not what we want as players. We want to test ourselves at the highest level consistently. Hopefully, they will have a look at it and change it.
“I think that’s what Carlow and Westmeath want. Kerry, Offaly will get back there as well in a couple of years. Laois hurling is after building a lot of momentum over the last two weeks, and we want to build on that again. Whether that be financially or getting some help from Croke Park to get trainers into the schools, the clubs and stuff, whatever has to be done to set up the programmes needs to be done.
“We want Laois to be there or thereabouts. Hopefully, Croke Park will help us out in that regard and get things moving in the county.”
Phelan testifies that the appetite in Laois for hurling was always strong prior to these last two halcyon weekends.
“We had a meet-the-players night there a couple of years ago. God, our hands were worn out from signing autographs, there were so many kids.
“It would have been easier to have been in a gym session.
“You ask where these kids are from. Some are from the traditional hurling areas while some are from not-so traditional hurling areas but they are all mad into hurling. We need every player we can get and all the help we can get for people to go in and train these kids. The interest is there now in hurling in Laois and we need to build on it. Hopefully we can set the groundwork for the future.”
Phelan hopes Laois are an example that the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals are worth retaining. Their victory contrasted with Westmeath’s 23-point loss to Cork on Sunday — Westmeath were also defeated at the same stage by 11 points at the hands of Wexford at the same stage last year, while Carlow suffered a 24-point reverse against Limerick.
“There has to be an avenue back into the Championship,” says the 30-year-old. “It’s tough enough on Laois, not being in the Leinster championship, let alone not being in the All-Ireland series. We believe we should be up there and thankfully we are now in the Leinster Championship.
“People are saying there should be six teams in Leinster next year and we’d be all for that.
“I don’t think it would make much of a difference. Dublin had a three-week break there so you could fit in a game there, no problem.
Giving the McDonagh Cup finalists an extra week also has to be on the agenda, Phelan argues. “We are after going to the well two weeks in a row. Even the mental side of it, getting ourselves set for Sunday again is tough, apart from the physical side of things. The legs, I don’t know how they’ll hold up in Croke Park! Hopefully they’ll be fine. We won’t know until Sunday.”
Celebrations did them no harm after beating Westmeath and manager Brennan clearly believed the same as he joined the players again in therevelry after their incredible victory over Dublin.
“I think you trust the players to know when to stop. You have to celebrate when you win or what’s the point in winning?” said Phelan.
“Eddie could tell us there, ‘go home now and don’t drink’ but then there would probably be a few lads sneaking off.
“In fairness to him, he nearly led the celebrations at the weekend. He was singing, he was buying drink, even serving drink there at one stage I think later on in the night.
“He’s a fantastic character to have around the group.”
Brennan took Phelan by surprise earlier this season when he appointed him vice-captain of the side.
The Camross man had been in Australia for more than three years where he formed a team in Mackay in Queensland before returning home.
Now he finds himself preparing to play Tipperary in an All-Ireland quarter-final, a scenario which he describes as “unreal”.
“We played them in a practice match (in O’Moore Park) before the Joe McDonagh and they beat us well.
“Their wrists are unbelievable, the could just flash it over the bar in a second, so we know what we are up against.
“We just can’t wait to test ourselves against that calibre of opponent and hopefully we do ourselves justice.”