The Laois senior hurlers open their Allianz NHL Division 1B campaign this Saturday night when they welcome Offaly to O’Moore Park.
Laois have slight injury concerns over both Charlie Dwyer (groin) and Joe Campion (hamstring), with neither taking part in a practice match with Tipperary at the weekend as a precaution.
They will be given every chance to prove their fitness, however, and could yet make it into this weekend’s starting team. James Walsh will be missing however, as he is in Zambia through his work with Portlaoise CBS.
Laois manager Seamus Plunkett admitted to his excitement ahead of this weekend’s game, as Laois go in search of back-to-back wins over their neighbours. “There will be no doubt that next Saturday nights game against Offaly is going to be a rip roaring game of hurling, real local derby stuff.
“A few people have said to me that Offaly took us for granted a little bit last year and that this will not happen this year. I suppose looking at it objectively it is easy to see how people make these comments as over the last few years, outside of Kilkenny, no other county has had as much club success in Leinster or All Ireland Club championships.
“It just shows the level of talent available and Offaly supporters will be looking forward to seeing them combine at county level. Any manager would be envious as it’s a very strong hand to have available to Brian Whelehan.”
While Offaly have no doubt been successful at club level, Brian Whelehan has had to deal with his fair share of upheaval in the panel this year. Conor Doughan and Conor Mahon are not involved this year, James Rigney, Rory Hanniffy and Kevin Brady have all retired, David Kenny is injured, Kilcormac-Killoughey duo Peter and Thomas Geraghty have dropped off the panel, while Brian Carroll is in Zambia (along with James Walsh, as Carroll also teaches in Portlaoise CBS) and Joe Bergin has yet to feature this year.
In spite of that, Plunkett knows Laois will have to be at the top of their game this weekend. “Our team is really looking forward to the game and it is these matches that our players want to test themselves in.
“Every Laois player knows he is facing one hell of a battle to win his own position but I also know they can’t wait for Saturday night to come and to get out on that field and show what we can do.
“If we can come out on top in enough of those battles we will give ourselves a great chance of winning the game, but that is how tight it will be. It’s a real time for Laois hurlers and supporters to stand up and be counted in these types of games.”