Laois star Ross King craves Croke Park appearance
By Cian O’Connell
Ross King’s value to the Laois cause should never be underestimated. In three Allianz Hurling League fixtures so far in 2018 King has struck 0-38, confirming his clinical finishing ability for Eamonn Kelly’s team.
Last Saturday’s victory over Antrim offered a significant injection of belief and momentum ahead of this Sunday’s short trip to Bord Na Mona O’Connor Park for an important clash with neighbours Offaly.
“We were delighted, we had been happy enough with our first two performances against Limerick and Galway, but we had no points on the board so it was said for the two week break we had between the Galway and Antrim game that we really needed to win,” King admits.
“Nothing was worth the effort until we started putting points on the board. We turned around and we put in a good performance scoring 27 points, we plugged away fine and now we are looking forward to Offaly on Sunday.
“It is a big local derby, it is in Tullamore, an early game, it would be unbelievable to have four points on the board after the initial two tough ones.”
The stakes are piled high against Offaly because whoever claims the spoils is likely to advance to the knockout stages of the competition.
“It is a quarter final place and it is bragging rights too, we have been down in the dumps for years,” King states.
“Offaly were flying when we were poor so we are trying to turn the corner there. We got a few wins over them in the last few years and equally they have beaten us so it has been tit for tat, but we would be quietly confident going there on Sunday afternoon. It will make for a good game.
“They had a savage win in the first game, we had a decent win last week so we are probably both on an even playing field so it will be interesting to see how it goes.”
King explains his switch to centrefield for most of the 2017 campaign. “I started off last year inside and to be honest I wasn't happy with how I was going,” King says candidly.
“I wasn't getting on ball so I was at the manager and people probably shouldn't go at the manager for this reason, but I would be the opposite. I said I wanted to be more in the game and asked him would he mind thinking about bringing me out the field. He brought me out for one game and I ended up being there for the year.
“Then he started me back inside this year and we are playing to a system where we probably have two lads inside so there is plenty of space. If the ball is sent in quick, that is all I want. It is working at the moment, we are scoring big and we are creating opportunities.
“It is not worth anything unless you get the wins, we got one and we are looking to get three wins. The system is suiting me at the moment and I'm delighted with how it is going.”
Having earned respect under Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett, Laois are seeking to make progress under former Offaly boss Eamonn Kelly.
It is as much a mental as a physical challenge for Laois to develop. “The biggest thing I see is getting that one win,” King admits.
“To be honest if you went through the last five years with Laois, the four with Cheddar and the one with Eamonn, we actually haven't got that big win we are always craving.
“We beat Offaly in a Championship match, it was great, but we never beat any of the Tier One teams. We were very close to Galway a few times, we were close to Galway in the League, but close isn't doing it.
“Doing it is probably where the belief comes from. I guarantee you if you asked some of the players in the dressing room they probably don't believe we will beat these big teams when it actually comes to it.
“There isn't enough lads believing it. Until we do it the gap won't close, we have to get that win. That is where it will all start from because lads will be more confident in the games that bit more.
“We play Galway or a Limerick it is nearly a damage limitation until you get out to play them you realise we aren't that bad, we are well able to compete here.
“The ship is nearly gone by then, it is hard to change your mindset from damage limitation to going out to win. Until you actually win that game you will forever be in that damage limitation mindset.”
King and a raft of his colleagues have been on the inter-county beat with Laois for several years and the Rathdowney-Errill clubman feels the time has arrived to really deliver when it matters.
“When we were first getting close to Galway - we were nearly happy,” King acknowledges. “A moral victory we got close to this team, we aren't getting hammered. Previously we would have been getting hammered.
“Now it is getting to the stage where a lot of us are five, six, seven years on the panel and we have tasted all these moral victories and they don't taste that good anymore. It is trying to get this win, it is so hard to get it. When you are in that position with 10 minutes to go with only a point or two in it against the Galways of the world I'd love to see what is going through lads minds.
“Are were happy to get that close or are we really going for that win. So far we probably have been letting ourselves down a little bit in the last 10 minutes. We aren't seeing out the games as well as we should, but that will come with experience and wins.”
A revamped All Ireland Championship format ensures Laois are clearly intent on making an impact in the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup.
“The initial goal is obviously staying up in the Division, getting to a Quarter-Final,” King adds. “The Joe McDonagh Cup is absolutely number one in the back of our heads for all of the winter slog. The majority of our Laois panel hasn't been in Croke Park for any match and hasn't played there.
“Like myself and a few other boys we have only sat down to watch a match, that would be a huge dream of ours to get there. If we got to lift a bit of silverware as a Laois hurler, that is dream stuff to be honest and we would go into a later round in the All Ireland Qualifiers.
“We have been knocked out in early rounds previously. If we got to a League Quarter-Final, a McDonagh Cup Final and hopefully win it to get forward to a good Qualifier and maybe get a win there, that would be a phenomenal year, we would be absolutely delighted with that. It is our goal.
“At the moment playing in Croke Park, the potential to lift silverware, playing in an All Ireland Qualifier, they are three things not a lot of the counties in the round robin group has ever achieved.
It is great to see another team in Croke Park challenging for silverware, being competitive. That is what we want to be and having a game against bigger teams as well.
Whoever wins the Joe McDonagh will get that chance after having five or six competitive games in a row. They will be in great order going into a Qualifier.”
With the polished and prolific King leading the charge Laois are striving to make a welcome return to action at GAA headquarters in 2018.