Laois manager Brendan Fennelly will be hoping to have a fully fit panel to pick from this weekend, as he awaits fitness reports on a number of key players ahead of the clash with Cork on Saturday.
Ger Reddin made a return to action in a practice match against the Kilkenny intermediates last week and last 45 minutes, although he is still receiving treatment on the injury he picked up in the final round of league games. He also trained at the weekend, and manager Brendan Fennelly admitted he is hopeful of having the Castletown-Slieve Bloom man available for Saturday.
There are a number of other concerns ahead of the game too, with Brian Campion and Matthew Whelan picking up knocks, while Eoin Reilly may not have recovered in time after having his tonsils removed just over a week ago. Tomas Dunphy from Camross will remain on standby to act as Paddy Mullaney’s deputy should Reilly not make the game.
After a turbulent year for both manager and players, the Cork game represents a mountain to be climbed for Fennelly and his charges. The qualifier draw couldn’t have been more unkind to them, but the Kilkenny man says the players are now eager to take on the Rebels. While acknowledging that it would take a huge upset for his side to get something from the game, he wasn’t ruling out the possibility of an upset. “We have to get our own game right first, and we have to work a lot harder than we did against Antrim.
“We have to up our workrate and compete early in the game. At the end of the day it’s fifteen against fifteen and we’re well able to hurl in Laois.”
With Cork expected to steamroll Laois out of their way en route to a date with Offaly, it’s fair to say there isn’t much expected of them this Saturday. For Fennelly, he feels that could work in Laois’ advantage. “Against Cork every part of the game is crucial, but we have nothing to lose, so we can go out and have a right cut at them.”
Fennelly was also hoping a sizable home support turned out for the game, something which hasn’t been the case this year. While he admits he would like more supporters to turn out, he conceded it’s up to his team to give them a reason to show up in force. “We would indeed (like to see more support), but the supporters will come if the get value for money, and it’s up to us to give them that value, but it would be great to have a bit off support for the players.”
For their part, Cork come into the game with injury concerns of their own, with midfilder Lorcan McLoughlin ruled out after suffering a suspected fractured thumb in an intermediate championship game for Kanturk at the weekend.
Cork come into the game having put All-Ireland champions Tipperary to the pin of their collar in the Munster SHC quarter-final at the end of May. Without an All-Ireland title since 2005 and final appearance since 2006, Denis Walsh’s side are looking to re-establish themselves amongst hurling’s elite, and are 1/33 favourites to see off Laois’ challenge on Saturday.
Walsh has brought through a new generation of hurlers for the Rebels, with only a handful of the team that claimed back-to-back All-Ireland’s in 2004 and 2005. Donal Og Cusack remains the undoubted number one between the posts for them, while John Gardiner at wing-back and Ben O’Connor at wing-forward have plenty of miles on the clock at this stage.
The emergence of Patrick Horgan in the forward line has given them a top-class marksman at their disposal, and his likely tussle with John A Delaney is sure to be one of the highlights of the game.
Laois face a massive task in this game to get anyhting from it, but this group of players tends to play better when nothing is expected of them. There isn’t a whole lot expected on Saturday, so hopefully they can turn in a performance. Throw in for this Saturday’s game is 3pm, with tickets costing E10 for the terrace and E15 for the stand.