Kelly targets survival as young charges get ready for NHL Division 1B campaign


Eamonn Kellyis hoping Laois can retain their Division 1B status this year.

Having plotted the downfall of Laois last year, Eamonn Kelly is now on the other side of the fence, as he begins his attempt to guide a young panel through a tough Division 1B campaign.

At the helm of Offaly's senior hurlers last year, his charges twice beat Laois, in league and championship, so while he's new to the job, he knows plenty about the county.

So far, he has enjoyed a reasonably successful Walsh Cup campaign, as Laois won both the games they were expected to, against NUI Galway and Dublin IT, while showing well against Galway in their last game.

The Walsh Cup is by no means a measuring stick for a team's league or championship credentials, but Kelly has at least gotten something out of the games.

Trying players in new positions may solve one or two problem positions for Laois, and as he looks ahead to a this weekend's league opener with Kerry, he can look back on the Walsh Cup and be happy. “We had 28 players that got game time in the Walsh Cup, which tells its own story. It was a great opportunity for some players and it was definitely a worthwhile exercise, some players really put their hand up.”

So far, however, getting his whole panel together ahead of the Kerry game has been difficult. With a handful of players in action with their colleges in the Fitzgibbon Cup, it has made life difficult for the Laois management team. “It's not ideal, you can't do as much without your full panel at training, but on the other side, we're fortunate to have lads playing at that level. There are some really talented young players there.”

In truth, Kelly came into the job in difficult circumstances, taking over from a manager who hadn't wanted to leave, and who was very popular with the home supporters.

None of what happened around Cheddar Plunkett's departure had anything to do with Kelly, but he did pay tribute to the work done by Plunkett, something he has benefitted from since he took over. “There are a lot of good young hurlers here in Laois.
“There was a very good setup here last year and you can see that the players have been well coached, so there was a lot of good work done over the last few years.”

As a date with Kerry looms on the horizon, Kelly knows that his team must start the league very strongly, which isn't going to be an easy task. Overall, however, he knows what he wants to achieve with Laois this year. “It's going to be very tough in the league, I'd probably be happier if we had Galway, Wexford and Limerick in our first three games and then the other when we had everyone back, but it what it is.

“We want to maintain our status in Division 1B, and it is going to be very competitive, and from there then we want to qualify back into the Leinster championship, and if we can do that I think we will have made good progress this year.”

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