By Pat Delaney
THIS weekend Matthew Whelan will join his colleagues in Croke Park hoping to add another medal, this time a Joe McDonagh medal, to his collection. He is by far the most experienced player on the Laois team but like many good players hardly got the rewards he deserved.
However, 14 years ago he enjoyed a mixed year and probably set a record for the number of games he played. That year he picked up two Leinster and All-Ireland medals.
The All-Ireland was with St Fergal’s College, Rathdowney when deep in Munster territory they saw off Bandon after extra time. Next up he became the second player from the parish to receive a Leinster football medal when he was part of the Laois minor football panel that retained the Leinster title.
Where might you ask did the football come from? Well his uncle Eamon ‘Aitch’ Whelan captained Laois to junior All-Ireland honours in 1973 and of course was a member of the Laois national league winning team 13 years later.
The same year Willie also lined out with Laois minor hurlers and was a member a year later as well. Then in Limerick College he picked up a Fresher’s medal but was denied Fitzgibbon Cup glory by Laois’s Willie Hyland and Galway’s Joe Canning.
On the domestic front he helped the parish reach the minor and under-21 finals but lost both to arch rivals Camross.
In 2007 he was called into the senior panel after the sudden departure of Dinny Cahill. His first taste of senior hurling was when he was brought on a sub in a league match against Derry in Portlaoise. Then, if he thought it would be plain sailing at this level, he learned the Wicklow way. Laois travelled to Pearse Park in Arklow on a cold day and like the footballers in Aughrim left empty handed. Tommy Fitzgerald scored a late goal to put Laois in front but Wayne O’Gorman stunned the visitors with his second goal in injury time.
Damien Fox was the manager and needless to say shots were aimed in his direction but the man is still in the business out in Rathleague.
Laois bounced back and reached the league decider beating Westmeath in the semi-final 3-18 to 2-20 in Tullamore. In the other semi-final Wicklow beat Kildare also by a point.
Semple stadium was the venue for the curtain raiser to Kilkenny and Waterford. This time Laois made no mistake cantering home 2-19 to 0-8 and Joe Fitzpatrick lifted the trophy.
Laois were pleased but championship would be a different matter. Offaly handed out lessons in successive years as did Galway in the qualifiers but Matthew missed a year with a cruciate.
He bounced back in 2010 to land his first championship points, four in total against Carlow and another against Dublin in the qualifiers.
Matthew has seen managers come and go and 2013 saw him captain the O’Moore’s to league honours in Tullamore against who else but Westmeath. Sub goalkeeper that day was Pat Carroll of Mountrath who lined out with Westmeath in last year’s final and despite being on the losing side has the honour of receiving the first All-Star award in this competition.
Three years ago Matthew and his brother Pat were part of the Borris/Kilcotton team that won the club’s first Laois senior championship.
Matthew played senior championship football with Mountmellick and this weekend hopes to play in his third National final at three different venues.