Fennelly looks for fast start

He may be new to the players and new to Laois hurling, but that does not mean he hasn’t got certain expectations. Brendan Fennelly (below) wants this Laois team to qualify for a Division 2 final, he sees no reason why they shouldn’t, so now it’s time to see if they can realise that goal.

He may be new to the players and new to Laois hurling, but that does not mean he hasn’t got certain expectations. Brendan Fennelly (below) wants this Laois team to qualify for a Division 2 final, he sees no reason why they shouldn’t, so now it’s time to see if they can realise that goal.

The month of January has been good to Laois, providing them with three tough Walsh Cup games as they prepare for their assault on the league. They rounded off their preparations on Sunday against De La Salle of Waterford, having to travel down to the city club after the heavy rains in Laois forced the game to be rearranged.

For the new Laois manager, it was another example of the character in the side. “We’ve had a good January, with three games in the Walsh Cup,” explains Fennelly. “Overall it has worked out fairly well, and I was impressed that with an hour’s notice we had 26 lads on a bus to Waterford to go and play a practice match. It showed me they want to do well.”

While that game will have given some players their chance to stake their claim for a starting berth ahead of this weekend’s clash with Westmeath, there remains a handful yet to return.

Darren Maher was home from Wales at the weekend for the De La Salle game, but with the late change in venue, he missed out on his chance to get his first action of 2011 under his belt. He will be available again this Sunday, however, but is unlikely to feature from the start.

Both Shane Dollard and Eoin Costello remain on the long-term injury list with hand and knee injuries respectively, while Chris Murray (back) and Michael Bermingham (finger) are also receiving treatment for those niggles ahead of the season opener.

With a league final place on the radar Laois will need to get off to a good start this Sunday, and Fennelly is aware of the threat Westmeath can pose. “Westmeath will be a difficult team to beat, and if we are going up there we have to be prepared.

“We want to hit the ground running, and we won’t be taking any chances on Sunday. In the next two weeks we have Westmeath away and Carlow at home and we have to target four points from those games.”

While the likes of Westmeath and Carlow have proved tricky opposition in the past, it is against the likes of Limerick and Clare that Laois have struggled to compete with in recent years. Knowing he’ll need a win over one of them to get a place in the league final, Fennelly is taking things one game at a time for now. “After the first two games I’ll be a lot wiser. We have Antrim at home and Limerick away then, and we’ll assess how the league is progressing at that stage.”