Laois enter Division 1B this year with a clear aim of trying to retain that status for 2018.
Laois face Kerry and Offaly in the first two weeks’ and in order to achieve their aim, they must win at least one of these games if not both.
Here we pick out some of the talking points ahead of Sunday’s crunch encounter.
Importance of first two games
The start to the Allianz Division 1B league is absolutely crucial for Eamonn Kelly’s Laois. After the first two weeks, Laois will either be staring at the drop to Division 2A or planning a promotion push.
First up is an away trip to Kerry on Sunday afternoon, a side who beat Laois well in O’Moore Park last year. Laois went on to lose all of their league games under Cheddar Plunkett last year but saved themselves by beating Westmeath in a relegation/promotion play-off. The GAA have scrapped that safety net this year so Laois must look to get something on the board on Sunday.
They will then host Offaly next Saturday, which will pit manager Kelly against his former side. If Laois manage to get the better of Kerry, a win here would surely preserve their Division 1B status.
With games against Galway, Limerick and Wexford to come, Laois’ destiny will likely be sealed after just two games.
Burden on youth
Laois have just 25 players fit for Sunday’s clash and manager Eamonn Kelly confirmed to LaoisToday that just three of those players are over the age of 25.
With enormous pressure on Laois to come out of this game or the Offaly one with at least one win, the manager will be hopeful that his young squad can handle it.
He used the Walsh Cup to blood teenagers like Eanna Lyons and Seán Downey. All of the players acquitted themselves well and hopefully the burden placed upon them to do it on Sunday won’t be too great.
Unavailability of former stars
Laois have been decimated in recent years by retirements and withdrawals from the panel.
The Clough-Ballacolla duo of Darren Maher and Willie Hyland stepped away this year while Camross’ Zane Keenan has not made himself available for selection.
The absence of forwards like Keenan and Hyland has placed pressure on others to fill the shortfall. Players like Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher, Cha Dwyer and captain Ross King will need to step up this year for Laois if they are to have any chance. Maher is in great form lately, having managed to core 3-12 for IT Carlow midweek, and hopefully he can continue that form.
Style of play
Towards the end of Cheddar Plunkett’s reign, Laois supporters began to complain that his style of play was extremely negative.
In the Walsh Cup, new manager Kelly certainly seemed to favour a more attacking style. He did seem to drop the half forward line, in particular Eanna Lyons, back on occasion as cover but there was no sign or a sweeper or even two as had been the case at times in previous years.
Laois football supporters will warn their hurling counterparts not to get too excited about pre-season tournament form after what happened to them against Louth last week, however, if Kelly continues with this offensive approach, Laois will be entertaining to watch at the very least.
Mixed reviews from the bookies
The bookmakers have Laois at 8/13 to beat Kerry on Sunday but they are less enthusiastic about the O’Moore County beyond that.
They make Laois level with Kerry in the race for relegation but the result of their clash will undoubtedly have a bearing on that.