“We’ve always been there or thereabouts,” says chairman Vincent Dowling about their trio of three-point losses and one in extra-time.
“Against Ballymun in 2012, we had our chances, just as we did last year before Brendan Egan overlapped and stuck a goal for Vincent’s and finished it.
“When you play a Dublin team you have to be fully focussed for the full 60 minutes. Counties outside Dublin would have clubs who have two or three class forwards and maybe one strong midfielder. Dublin teams have six class forwards and two strong midfielders.”
Vincent’s stand in their way again tomorrow but what Portlaoise’s recent travails in the province don’t tell you is how their off-field difficulties have never upset their dominance in the county, this year claiming their eighth consecutive county title.
Some say they’re faltering, but it didn’t appear that way in the final when they saw off Arles-Kileen by 11 points. Yes, they may be ‘The Town’ but facing debts north of €6.5 million in 2009 after planning difficulties following a move from their old grounds they were close to the end game.
“Anytime I get the chance I tell the players what they have been doing on the pitch has kept us going off it,” says Dowling. “We’re not professional people and we’re trying to run an organisation and it’s been incredibly difficult but to turn around and be able to go to a match and see our players perform it takes the pressure off.
“It has been tough. I don’t know if any other club chairman or set of officers in the county went through the pressure we went through during the years. It’s easy for people outside to give out to officers but they don’t realise what we’ve been through. ”
Because of a confidentiality contact, Dowling can’t comment on the current status of the debt only to say that “the outlook is bright”.
He adds: “And it’s not just the senior team that have been going well. From kindergarten and juvenile up, the work is being done. Matters on the field never got sidetracked. Our ladies football team and our U12 camogie team won the county for the first time ever. One of the reasons why we moved out of the old ground was we didn’t have enough space. Now we have it and everyone gets the same time on the pitches.”
Defiance is alive and well in the club’s senior panel. They weren’t going to let the financial difficulties impinge upon their performances, just as they weren’t distracted by the tragic death of their team-mate Peter “Chief” McNulty in 2010. As harrowing as his loss was, they won a county title two weeks later and have continued to conquer Laois in his honour.
“We all know Peter and I had him as a player on a team when he was 16 and he was a character. It was like losing one of your own and it had an awful effect on the family and a lot of people.
“It’s not something the players talk about in the dressing room. They don’t say ‘we have do this for Peter’ but they just have a look at each other and they know. He’s always in their thoughts and he’s sadly missed.”
That bond is evident by Zach Tuohy’s decision to make himself available tomorrow despite turning down the chance to represent Ireland in the International Rules test in Perth later this month.
Tuohy will return to Australia shortly to commence pre-season training with Carlton, having been in Ireland the last few weeks. It had been reported Portlaoise’s sponsors had paid to fly him back for the game but Dowling, like manager Tommy Conroy, laughed it off as a ‘PR slant’.
He’s just glad Tuohy’s on board. “He’s a fantastic player and he’s great to have around the place. He’s made a positive impression on the club. He’s a role model and shown how a lad can transform from an amateur to a professional sport.
“He knows the lads have been putting in the effort this year just like every year before. Most teams who win a county final can celebrate for the rest of the week but they were back training on the Tuesday night. They’re working towards achieving more.”