New season set for take off

Niall Donoher is the only major absentee for the Laois senior footballers this Saturday night, as they get set to take on Mayo on their return to Division 1 action in O’Moore Park.

Niall Donoher is the only major absentee for the Laois senior footballers this Saturday night, as they get set to take on Mayo on their return to Division 1 action in O’Moore Park.

The Courtwood man aggravated an existing knee injury against Carlow in the O’Byrne Cup earlier this year, and he is now set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Colm Coss is the only other player on the panel not available to Justin McNulty, who has had to rebuild his squad over the winter after a number of high profile players opted out for 2012.

Looking ahead to the game, McNulty was full of praise for the work the players had put in ahead of the start of the league. “I think we have made progress with every game, it (the O’Byrne Cup) is a warm up competition and the players have put in a massive effort, but they know and we know that we will need a massive step up this weekend.”

Mayo come to Portlaoise in impressive early season form themselves after breezing to the Connacht FBD league title last Friday night. They have received a couple of injury boosts in recent times too, with Conor Mortimer showing no ill-effects from the cruciate ligament injury which ruled him out of last year. Andy Moran is also showing good form on his return from a broken leg, so manager James Horan has options available to him this weekend.

Horan has admitted he is expecting an “absolute battle” from Laois this weekend, and Laois supporters will be similarly hopeful after some mixed performances last year.

When the amount of new recruits are factored in (eleven players made their senior intercounty debuts against UCD in the first round of the O’Byrne Cup this year), it makes for a difficult job in getting the team.

The win over Wexford will have given the management team some food for thought ahead of the Mayo game, with Padraig Clancy a favourite to start at full-forward following good showing in the O’Byrne Cup and in practice matches. The experiment of playing Kevin Meaney at full-back looks like it has come to an end though, as Kieran Lillis has started each of the four games so far this year on the edge of the square.

He could well be at the centre of an all-Portlaoise full-back line, with Cahir Healy almost certain to start in the number two jersey, while Brian Mulligan and Peter O’Leary will be pushing hard to start in the other corner. A number of other positions are up for grabs too, as John O’Loughlin is set to come back into the mix after featuring for the first time this year against Wexford, while Colm Begley has only appeared sparingly due to his involvement with DCU.

In attack, David Conway has drawn praise from Justin McNulty already this season for his performance against Carlow, and he looks a good bet to start in one of the corner forward positions. Throw in this Saturday night is at 7pm, with a trip to Donegal in round two following the week after.