Veteran Fitzpatrick hails Portlaoise’s new blood

AN infusion of fresh blood is the key to Portlaoise’s progression to another Leinster final.

So says one of the team’s elder statesmen, Kevin Fitzpatrick, who will be appearing in his second provincial decider for the club.

The versatile 32-year-old, who is as comfortable at full-forward as at full-back, where he is currently deployed by Portlaoise, has also played in Leinster finals for Laois at senior, U21 and minor level.

For the likes of former Ireland youth and Glasgow Celtic winger, Paul Cahillane, Kieran Lillis and Brian Glynn though, Sunday’s experience will be completely new.

Fitzpatrick is not worried about how they will fare however, crediting them with playing a major role in getting ‘The Town’ to this juncture.

“They are all great lads and they don’t fear anything; they are confident in their own ability,” Fitzpatrick said in this week’s Leinster Express. “We lost two top forwards this year (Colm Parkinson and Zach Tuohy) and Paul Cahillane has stepped in and he’s been our top scorer.

“Kieran has been involved for the last few years and has progressed well and Brian has been one of our most influential players this year as well, and they have all played well in every game.”

It isn’t all about the young guns though. Fitzpatrick has been in fine form this year although a dose of the flu led to his replacement at half time in last Sunday’s semi-final win over Clara.

Brian McCormack and Aidan Fennelly are others who have shone but it was the performance of another former county player, Colm Byrne that really stood out in the defeat of the Offaly champions.

Byrne had retired from serious duty and begun the season operating at intermediate level. Having done well, he decided to give senior fare a go once again and Sunday’s start was his first in the championship this season.

“Very few would have expected us to start Colm,” team manager John Mulligan admitted subsequently. “He has been doing a lot of work with us. We sprung him in a few games and we felt now was the time to give him the big start.

“It was going to be a tough, physical battle. We needed a big man with power in the air and Colm worked exceptionally well in there.

“He’s a very good footballer, with a great head. A great man when he’s on the ball, he doesn’t panic. He knows how to give off a ball. It worked a treat for us.”

Garrycastle present a different challenge, and given their exploits in getting this far, will be Portlaoise’s most difficult opponents to date.

“They are a good team,” cautioned Fitzpatrick. “They beat Ballyboden in the semi-final. Any side that beats a Dublin team at this stage of the competition is bound to be good.

“They have a few big physical lads but they’re all good ball players. Their wing-backs like to get forward so they’ll probably be the toughest team we come up against this year.”

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