John Sugrue would have had his finger on the pulse in Laois long before becoming the county’s senior football manager.
It’s been eight years since he moved to Portlaoise and his physiotherapy business is well rooted in Kellyville Park, bang in the centre of the town.
The Main Street is basically over the back fence, the county council offices stare at him when the door is closed after him and O’Moore Park isn’t so much as a 10-minute stroll out the Abbeyleix Road.
His proficiency at the day job has won him many admirers. ‘Magic hands,’ they say. Football talk would have been a regular occurrence long before he succeeded Peter Creedon in the bainisteoir’s bib late last year.
So, Sugrue would have noticed the apathy that came with Laois’ slide down the divisions, from the top tier to the bottom, in much less than a decade. And he would have known about the paltry crowds and the lack of direction about it all.
Making their excuses and departing Division Four at their earliest possible convenience won’t shake any trees beyond their own county boundaries but Laois will at least approach the summer with a spring in their step for a change.
Sugrue takes the point. “If you get results, irrespective of where you get them — and you’d have to keep sight of where we got our results as well. It was in Division Four — fellas are hungry for jerseys and they’re hungry to do what you’re getting them to do.
Sugrue knows it is up to the team to attract the crowds back and rebuild, 15 years on from the season Mick O’Dwyer delivered a rare Leinster title and, as an ex-physio to the senior footballers, he wasn’t coming in cold.
He talks about a need for greater structure and a consistency in approach and style. Achieving all that has been next to impossible with the turnover in managers since Micko moved on in 2006.
A long-term plan would seem the obvious way to go, then. By all means target the weekend’s Leinster Championship opener against Wexford but with the understanding that this is a project that requires some patience and deeper digging.
Sugrue won’t think like that. Can’t, he says.
“It has been a merry go round,” he says in reference to being the eighth holder of the post since O’Dwyer.
Their league campaign ended with a win against Carlow in the final and yet dogged by negativity in the wake of Gary Walsh’s misguided tweet and the injuries suffered by Daniel O’Reilly in an incident in Carlow the night of the game in Croke Park.
Those issues aside, the vibes have been good. Sugrue was the man the players wanted for some time. It just never suited his circumstances due to his stint with South Kerry, the arrival of his two kids, and a house that needed building.
Laying foundations is one thing for a manager but all that is irrelevant if the ground isn’t up to scratch and the perception of the standard of club football in Laois — as with a lot of counties is that it isn’t all that high in recent times.
Portlaoise winning 10 of the last 11 senior titles might be great for them as a club but it doesn’t say much for the rest. Nor did their defeat of Stradbally in a recent league game when they scored 10-16 against a side traditionally seen as a strong rival.
“There’s enough there,” said Sugrue who dismissed that result as a one-off. “I genuinely think in most counties you’ve got enough to be competitive to a great degree. It’s just a matter of getting your house in order.
“Their time will come as well though and other clubs’ time will come if they keep their head down, if they keep working hard at it and get back competitive. If you lie back on your back and look up at the sky all you’re ever going to do is look up at it.
“If you stand up, you’re closer to the sky than when you’re lying down.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved