A LEAGUE TITLE, a Leinster final appearance and a challenge in the qualifiers against eventual All-Ireland semi-finalists.
Other teams may have resided more in the spotlight in the 2018 but the Laois footballers ticked a few boxes and made noticeable strides.
It was an impressive start to life under the stewardship of John Sugrue. The Kerry native was not an unfamiliar outsider to the squad.
Laois football manager John Sugrue.
Source: Patrick O’Connor/INPHO
Life and work has based him in the county for a while, he did a stint previously as physio with the side before taking the managerial reins at the outset this year.
And soon he began to make his mark, showcasing why he had been highly regarded from his spells coaching the Kerry senior side in 2007-08 in assistance to Pat O’Shea and guiding his native South Kerry team to county glory in 2015.
The progress is incremental given Laois began in the basement tier of the league but they had silverware to their name in Croke Park in April. Then they got the chance to sample a Leinster final against an all-conquering Dublin team in late June before their summer adventure was ended by Monaghan, a game marked by a shot-stopping masterclass from Graham Brody.
“We had him before with (Justin) McNulty, he came in as a physio,” recalls Colm Begley, speaking before the departure to Philadelphia for the 2018 PWC All-Stars tour.
“Straight away, without blowing him up now, he has a good footballing brain. He’s been involved with good players, he’ll talk to players quite easily, he’s confident in regards to dealing with groups. He just came in and set down structures, brought in some good lads, the S&C was very good.”
A defensive anchor in the Laois team, Begley recognised a shift in their squad this season.
Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE
“Last year was probably the first year we actually had proper competition for a while. Myself or some of the more senior players could have played bad games, or average games, and probably would have started the week after.
“It was no one’s fault, we just didn’t have lads coming through or they weren’t confident enough yet. I could have had bad games, not that I was feeling comfortable, I was just having bad games.
“But I think last year, when you have a bad game, someone else will be brought in to have a crack at it. So he brought in some lads, he got a larger panel at the start, he brought in some fresh faces – and that brings a bit of energy.
“And then we had a game plan of sorts, he put a bit of structure into our play, and I suppose when a lads speaks with a bit of confidence and paints a clear picture for you, you get buy-in. He obviously had the previously respect from his coaching with us, with Justin.”
Begley has signed up again for more county service in 2019.
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Colm Begley and Ross Munnelly celebrate after Laois claimed the Division 4 football league title.
“I’ve started to go. I’m committed to it. I think every year when you get to an older age you have a little bit of a discussion about it.
“We had an alright year last year, which for me is a positive thing, and if management want you – you have a chat with him (John Sugrue), we had a discussion and he’s happy to keep me on.
“I think it would have been a different conversation if it wasn’t as strong. A lot of people might say that’s probably a bit short-sighted, but when you’re giving the commitment and you’re not getting the results or some form of progression, it’s very hard to stay involved, I think anyway.
“But when you see improvement, you kind of go there’s a benefit to it. So the atmosphere is good in there, John has brought a nice energy to it and it’s a good place to be around and a good place to train.”
Laois will start out life next spring in Division 3 and get set for a Leinster championship campaign later. They would be a county affected if a proposed second-tier structure was introduced and Begley finds himself in favour of such a concept.
“There’s definitely more positivity towards looking at it and I just don’t think we’re there yet in terms of how it’s going to be formatted. We’re still trying to change it, I know the GAA are looking at different ways as well and proposals.
“In fairness to them they’ve realised that it’s not something we can fast-track through. I would be in favour of it, I think down the line that’s the way it’s going. It’s all about trying to get the same respect for whatever competition it is as what we get for the main one. I think that’s the concern among players.
“It has to be thought about, how you’d market it, how you’d push it, what incentives would be for it. But I think players realise that we’re not all on the same level. We all want to go for the Sam Maguire, that’s great, but sometimes we’re not there yet. The League, I think, is a great competition because for certain teams, for us last year, Division Four, our goal was to get to Division Three, that was probably our main goal of the year. You realise you’re at the level there and if you’re progressing, you’re progressing on your ability. It’s as simple as that.
“I don’t see an issue in trying things out or at least putting proposals forward that might incentivise teams to do it and give Division Three and Division teams the same viewing and promotion that the top teams are getting.
“And giving them the chance to win a huge competition, and it would be a huge competition. It should be.”
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