The Laois senior footballers begin their 2011 league campaign this Saturday night in O'Moore Park when they host Meath in the first game of Division 2.
New manager Justin McNulty has overseen a busy first month of competitive fare, using 32 players in the three O'Byrne Cup/Shield games and trying out a number of different combinations.
Originally working off a panel of 36, that has been cut to 34 for the league with Arles-Killeen's Jason Enright and Crettyard's Criostoir Maher both released after last week's loss to Meath in the O'Byrne Shield semi-final.
John O'Loughlin, Donie Kingston and Colm Begley are all part of the panel despite not featuring in January and while a stomach injury has Kingston in a race against time to be fit for the U-21 championship opener against Westmeath at the end of February, Begley and O'Loughlin are options for Saturday's game.
Meath provide the opposition again and it will be the fifth meeting of the sides in less than a year. Meath won last year's league game in Navan and the sides then played twice in the championship with Laois coming back twice to earn a draw in Croke Park before losing by ten points in the replay in Tullamore just six days later.
"The league is about building towards the ultimate battle which is the championship," said McNulty yesterday (Tuesday). "We won't have the same level of experimentation as we had in the O'Byrne Cup but we're always open to trying out new things and I'd never rule anything out."
Despite losing the likes of Darren Rooney, Rory Stapleton, Cathal Ryan and John Scully, McNulty's panel has been boosted by the return of Colm Parkinson, Gary Kavanagh and Donie Brennan while there are high hopes for youngsters Robbie Kehoe and Kieran Lillis.
McNulty acknowledges that there is pressure for immediate success but that the first year is also about laying the foundations.
"We would like to be successful straight away but nothing happens overnight. We're all in this together - club managers, underage coaches and senior coaches - so there are good foundations but we are in a very competitive Division 2 and there is no team you can take for granted."
The team for the Meath game is expected to be named on Thursday night while the captain will be announced after the second league game against Antrim.
LAOIS NFL PANEL: Michael Nolan (Portlaoise), Darren Maher (Stradbally), Eoin Culliton (Timahoe), Shane Julian (Arles-Killeen), Denis Booth (The Heath), Robbie Kehoe (O'Dempsey's), Paul Begley (Stradbally), Darren Strong (Emo), Conor Boyle (Portlaoise), Padraig Clancy (Timahoe), Cathal Og Greene (Park-Ratheniska), Craig Rogers (Portlaoise), Colm Parkinson (Parnells), Gary Kavanagh (Stradbally), Michael Finlay (O'Dempsey's), Mark Timmons (Graiguecullen), Barry Fitzgerald (Portlaoise), Cahir Healy (Portlaoise), Ross Munnelly (Arles-Kilcruise), Niall Donoher (Courtwood), Colm Coss (Mountmellick), Donie Brennan (Arles-Killeen), Paul Cahillane (Portlaoise), Brendan Quigley (Fingallians), Michael Tierney (Parnells), Billy Sheehan (Emo), Kieran Lillis (Portlaoise), Kevin Meaney (Arles-Kilcruise), Padraig McMahon (Ballyroan-Abbey), John O'Loughlin (Mountmellick), Donie Kingston (Arles-Killeen), Colm Begley (Parnells), Paul Lawlor (Emo), Daithi Carroll (The Heath)
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