THE Laois minor hurlers open their championship campaign this Saturday with a difficult trip to face Westmeath in Cusack Park.
It is the third year in a row the sides will have met in the championship with Westmeath coming out on top by 1-19 to 0-16 last year and in 2010, the Lake County also came out on top by 2-16 to 1-11.
With home advantage Westmeath will go into the game as slight favourites, however Laois manager Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett has plenty of faith in his charges going into the game.
“Whereas we did not win the important championship games in 2011 I felt we’d made steady improvement. In each of the important games we played we were very competitive right down to the last minutes and with a bit of luck near the end of the two championship games v Westmeath and Wexford we could have won both games.”
Laois come into the game off the back of a disappointing Minor Hurling league campaign but while the manager notes the team didn’t do themselves justice, he isn’t too concerned ahead of the championship.
“We did not do ourselves justice in the Leinster Minor League games this year in comparison to last year when we reached the final of the competition, but I feel this was mainly due to injuries to key players and to St Fergals involvement in their colleges championship taking place at the same time.”
Underage hurling in Westmeath is certainly on the rise as was evidenced by the fact that they dumped Offaly out of last year’s championship and put it right up to eventual All Ireland finalists Dublin and schools hurling right across Westmeath is also very much on the rise.
While noting the strength of the opposition, Plunkett has plenty of faith in his side and what they can do.
“The boys have trained and prepared well, despite a number of injuries to key players at different stages. Their heart and soul is in Laois hurling and they are absolutely thrilled to be playing for Laois. Last year was a good positive start that gives the lads confidence and shows that we are neck and neck with the rest in Leinster but we need to drive on to the next level and start winning important games. We will have to learn to take some hard knocks in trying to be winners but need to be resilient in getting back up each time.”
A number of players are available from last year’s side, including Charlie Dwyer, PJ Scully and Joe Campion from the forward line. Those players are being charged with leading from the front.
“We have a number of players from last year, who hopefully can inspire a victory effort from their colleagues. We need to raise the hurling tempo for the full hour while at the same time having composure on the ball and not give it away cheaply. Leinster League performances will not have a huge bearing on the Championship game. This is a great challenge but make no mistake about it we will be up for this game,” concluded Plunkett.