As a bar and restaurant owner, it’s in Kieran Lillis’ nature to be positive and outgoing. Nobody wants to call in for a drink somewhere if the man pouring looks like he has the weight on his shoulders after all.
Despite this, it’s clear that the disappointment of failing to secure promotion has weighed heavily on the Laois midfielder, all the more because of the agonising manner in which they fell short. With the clock moving into injury time in Carrick-on-Shannon, the O’Moore County’s win over London was in the bag, and they just needed Leitrim to hold onto their one-point lead over Sligo. Instead, two late Sligo points flipped the table, meaning that it’ll be one more year in the basement division for Lillis and his colleagues.
It’s clear that this doesn’t sit well with him, because the early part of the 33-year-old’s career led him to believe that things would pan out differently. He was part of the 2007 Laois minor team that won a famous local derby Leinster final against Carlow, the county’s sixth Leinster minor title in 12 seasons. He was to go on to enjoy a sustained run of success at club level, and in his early years with the county, Laois football was in a very good place – and in his mind, that should still be the case.
“I firmly believe Laois should be competing. It’s not that long ago (2012) we were in Division One and had four points in Division One. We went down because we lost to Down on the last day” he said this week.
“If you’re in Division Four, you’re there because you deserve to be there unfortunately. But there is a part of me and our group that wants to try and rectify that”.
All of which is a matter for 2024. For now, there is the more pressing matter of the start of the Leinster championship, and a home tie against Wexford this Sunday afternoon.
“Without a doubt you have to rip the band aid off” Lillis said.
“You have to get your disappointment out of the way. We all know that the whole season will be over in the blink of an eye. Time flies by, so we have to make the most of these days leading up to the Wexford game.
“We’re a Laois team that’s hurt after not getting promoted but it’s only the players that are going to change it. We need to focus on this next game.”
The Portlaoise man has been incredibly consistent this year, starting every game in the same position, and he’s been on the pitch for every single minute so far. That begs the question of wear and tear, with the pace about to pick up considerably as league football makes way for Leinster championship.
“The body’s in a good place and it’ll stand any tests that it gets this year. It’s about having the head right” Lillis said.
“We were disappointed from the Division Four setback or whatever you want to call it, but I’m enjoying my football, enjoying being here.
“I’m still coming, I’m thirty-three and I’m still looking to learn every session and even helping some of the younger lads out with different bits and pieces. My head is good, and I am very lucky, I live a two-minute drive from the Centre of Excellence where we train.
“I’m happy to get as many minutes into my body as I can at a high level and the body has come through it” he added.
“While I’m a bit older I kind of have to mind myself more and be more conscious of my recovery and things like that. I have a good relationship with the S&C coach here, I’ve been talking to him nearly on a daily basis about hitting targets and he’s happy, so I’m happy!”
“It’ll be a huge test for us, but if we can put the hurt of the league behind us, physically we’re ready for it, and we’re definitely determined to bring Laois football to a much better place” he concluded.
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