Bittersweet was one way to describe Mick Lillis’ emotions after he saw Clare dump his Laois side out of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in Ennis on Sunday.
Lillis is a native of Co Clare and was centre back on the Cooraclare team that won the Clare Senior Football Championship in 1986. Needless to say he is happy to see the Banner progress in the football championship but for him their latest advancement came at the expense of a Laois team of which he is manager.
On this day Mick was fully immersed in the Laois camp and was moments away from dumping his home County out of the championship only for a strong finish from the hosts, it was a finish that the O’Moore men didn’t match according to Lillis. “Yeah look I’m a Clareman but I was well in the Laois camp, it was a tough game and that’s the way it turned out, it was a real championship battle, it was anyone’s up to the end and Clare came very strong at the end so fair play to them”.
He believes that Colm Collins’ men were the fresher of the two teams but refuses to blame their much publicised extra game with Armagh due to an extra substitution being made in their victory over the Orchard County for the result. “If you won you’d say they were a benefit and if you lose you’d say they caught up on you, there’s no simple answer to that, the fact is we had to play them, we played them, Clare didn’t have it they were fresh but you could argue it either way, it’s just the way it is and I wouldn’t offer it as an excuse”.
Despite leading for the majority of the game, Laois were hit by a late Clare flurry while they failed to score for the final twenty minutes. He says the only score that matters is the one at the final whistle and feels for the first time in 2016 their subs didn’t have the desired impact.
“Yeah but sure that’s it, the game lasts seventy five minutes and if you don’t come out at the end of it, it doesn’t matter how long you lead for, Clare came very strong, I thought they got a few decisions that might have gone our way, small things turn big games but look fair play to the Clare lads, they dug in and I think our substitutions for the first time this year didn’t really work today”.
A former manager of the County minors, Mick led Laois to Leinster Minor Final in 2015 only to lose out to Kildare. He states that the game today is won and lost is by the impact of players from the sideline as he praised the influence of the Banner changes. “They did, that’s what wins games nowadays, its how well your subs do when they come in and the Clare subs worked far better than ours did”.
When they were leading, the six time Leinster champions failed to power ahead and that proved costly. “First half we probably should have been more ahead, we weren’t direct enough in the first half, there was a tougher wind out there than you might think from the sideline or the stand, it did have a bearing on it and I suppose at the end of the day it helped Clare and we were struggling at the end”.
Mick is now hopeful Clare will progress further in the competition. Seeing as they were drawn away to Sligo it may be more difficult as the Portlaoise resident points to the importance of home advantage in the qualifiers. “I’d love to see them going on now and doing well, the next draw is going to be a tough one, it’s Sligo, Derry or Cavan so a real tough draw but if they got a home draw again anything could happen, home is very important in the qualifiers, it has proved so right throughout the years that the majority of wins are at home so if they get a home draw I think they’ve every chance”.