IN Laois, such is the turnover of players on the county panel in the past few years, they’re starting to label the less-youthful lads, old. Ross Munnelly, being a case in point.
He has the fresh-faced appearance of a man/boy barely out of a minor jersey yet he’s seen four Leinster finals and a large portion of his team-mates walk through the retirement door and some back in again.
Say it to him though, and he winces. “Don’t go calling me a veteran!” he laughs. “Leave that kind of talk to Parky or Rooney!”
Though not quite a veteran in the Jason Sherlock/Darragh ó Sé sense of the word, he’s been through the rough and tumble years of Laois’ revival, Leinster title and the GAA circus of the Micko era.
Before that, he was an underage prodigy — something not exactly thin on the ground in the O’Moore County. In fact, he was just the latest in the chain of never-ending boy wonders to hail from Laois.
With minor and U21 success so apparently easy to come by for the county, each wave of exciting players brought with it their own attacking dynamo. First, there was Brian McDonald and then Munnelly became the new ‘Beano’.
Michael John Tierney was the new Munnelly and now 17 year-old Donie Kingston is the freshest rising star in the county.
What about the ‘old’ Munnelly though? Is he still mad for road?
“That’s a touchy subject with me now I’m 25,” he jokes. “But, I think each individual is different within a squad. At the end of the day no matter who comes or goes or how much older or younger players are, everyone has their own job to do. I still try and do the same things that I have been doing all along the same as everyone else.”
The problem with being an underage prodigy, though, is that one less than spectacular year on the pitch breeds talk of an early demise. A golden generation of Laois players has come and gone with just the solitary 2003 Leinster title to really illustrate their collective ability.
When Laois sank in the past two years before the real business began, Munnelly went down with his ship and people wondered aloud whether he wasn’t an individual representation of his team and failing to fulfil massive potential.
Memories can be short, of course. In 2003, he was a Leinster champion at just 20 and must have presumed further success was inevitable.
His performances in 2005 led to an All Star nomination but a mixture of injuries, wavy form and an, at times, unstable environment, have hampered Munnelly’s rise.
What better way then to start the 2008 Championship than a five-point haul and a man-of-the-match performance against Wicklow?
“Yeah as Parkinson said to me: ‘you are probably the only man to get Man of the Match and hit five wides at the same time!’ But, we were fortunate enough to have come through the Wicklow game without it going to a replay. It looked towards the end like we were going to be caught,” he explains. “So we won’t be taking any chances ahead of Sunday. We are very focused on what we have to do and won’t be looking any further than Wexford.”
Ordinarily, a Leinster semi-final against Wexford would represent a decent test before the real deal goes down. Laois have, after all, been in four of the last five finals. This year has been a bit of a struggle, though, for Laois.
Besides injuries and retirements, there was relegation and poor performances in the league. Granted, there’s a posse of suitably able youngsters to shore up the ship but it must be tough to build on last year when so many of your resources are eroding.
“We are in transition at the minute,” admits Munnelly. “We had six debutants the last day. But stepping up to senior level is a completely different ball game. So while a lot of people were talking about how well Laois played the last day it only takes one slip up and people will remind us of how bad we played in the league and how disappointing our form has been. But we have some big leaders, the likes of Tom Kelly and Joe Higgins and (Darren) Rooney and Pádraig Clancy.”
“If you go right through our team there are guys that have been doing it there for a lot longer than I have.”
Still, he says Laois will be paying no attention to Wexford’s incredible 10-point turnaround against Meath. Not for any reasons of ignorance, just they’re well-aware themselves as to what Wexford will bring to the table.
“They beat us by seven points last year in the first half of the Leinster semi final and they also had a goal disallowed,” he says. “There is no doubt about it that after coming back from the dead against Meath that they are going to be a very tough task.”
“We are under no illusions that we have to be at our very best on Sunday. The likes of Matty Forde down the other end, Ciaran Lyng, Shane Roche and Banville, they are not going to miss too many chances. We have to be at our very best.
“Hopefully with a bit of luck on the day we will come through it.”
Filed under: Laois Football