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What you need to know about tonight’s Leinster U-21 semi-final clash between Laois and Offaly

Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow will host tonight's Leinster U-21 FC semi-final between Laois and Offaly

Leinster U-21 Football Championship Semi Final Preview

Gary Kavanagh’s Laois U-21 side continue their Leinster championship campaign tonight by facing Offaly in Dr Cullen Park at 7.30pm.

Laois haven’t reached the final of this competition since 2009 with their last win coming back in 2007.

Here we tell you what you need to know ahead of the game.

First of all, why is the game in Carlow?
Laois and Offaly have a home and away arrangement in all codes and age groups but with the Leinster Council fixing the U-21 championship games for midweek, floodlights are necessary. Offaly are due home advantage but O’Connor Park in Tullamore doesn’t have floodlights.

Offaly played their opening round game against Wexford in Gracefield but it isn’t deemed a suitable venue for tonight’s game. Laois would surely have been happy to play in O’Moore Park and then owe Offaly a game but that didn’t materialise. So we’re all off to Carlow and Netwatch Cullen Park, to give it its official title.

What’s the team news for both sides?
David Connolly’s straight red card against Louth means that he is suspended and his place on the starting team is taken by Stradbally defender Liam Knowles, the only change in personnel from the team that beat Louth. Danny O’Reilly, however, moves from wing-back to midfield to replace Connolly with Trevor Collins moving from corner-back to wing-back instead of O’Reilly.

Offaly have also made one change from their win over Wexford two weeks ago. Shannonbridge’s Ronan McEvoy replaces Belmont’s Jack Clancy at corner-forward.

The teams in full are:

Laois: Aaron Cooney (St Joseph’s); James Kelly (St Joseph’s), Shane Nerney (O’Dempsey’s), Liam Knowles (Stradbally); Patrick O’Sullivan (Portarlington), Eoin Buggie (Stradbally), Trevor Collins (Graiguecullen); Danny Luttrell (Courtwood), Danny O’Reilly (Graiguecullen); Darragh Connolly (Ballyfin), Brian Daly (St Joseph’s), Conor Whelehan (Timahoe); Colm Murphy (Portarlington), Sean Moore (Ballyfin), Brian Byrne (Graiguecullen)
Offaly: Barry Rohan (Shannonbridge); Clint Horan (Cloidagh Gaels), David Dempsey (Ballycommon), Colm Doyle (Clara); Adam Mahon (Edendarry), Carl Stewart (Clara), PJ Daly (Cappincur); James Lalor (Raheen), Jordan Hayes (Edenderry); Ciaran Farrell (Edenderry), Paddy Dunican (Shamrocks), Jack Walsh (Gracefield); Ronan McEvoy (Shannonbridge), Ruairi McNamee (Rhode), Shane Tierney (Daingean).

The pair clashed in last years’ minor semi final, how many from those teams will be involved tonight?
In short, not many. Just one from each team played in Laois’ 1-16 to 0-6 win last summer.

St. Joseph’s James Kelly was corner back last July and he will be again tonight. It’s been an incredible rise for Kelly who has gone to represent Laois at all three grades in the last 12 months.

On the Offaly side, Shannonbridge stopper Barry Rohan was between the posts in the minor game and he is the only player who will do the same tonight.

How did both sides get here?
Both teams reached the quarter final stage thanks to the draw which granted them a passage to the last eight without having to kick a ball.

Offaly faced Wexford, who had comfortably beaten Carlow in a preliminary round, in the quarter final on a horrible night in Gracefield two weeks’ ago.

An early second-half goal was the difference for the Faithful county as they edged it on a scoreline of 1-6 to 0-6.

Meanwhile, Laois had to wait an extra week to play Louth because their initial first round clash with Wicklow had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.

Kavanagh’s men got off to an awful start, conceding an early goal but rallied with two of their own to take a lead they would never relinquish.

They lost midfielder David Connolly to a straight red card midway through the first half but showed incredible character to win 2-13 to 1-8.

Who are the key men for Offaly?
Offaly have a number of threats but surely Ruairi Mcnamee at full forward is the biggest one.

The younger cousin of Offaly senior star Niall showed his worth as Rhode went all the way to the Leinster Club Championship final this year and Laois full back Shane Nerney will have to produce another competent performance to keep him at bay.

The game against Wexford turned on the restart when midfielder Jordan Hayes popped up with a goal and he is another one to monitor closely as he can score and is a huge aerial threat.

How did Offaly get on at minor?
Both teams advance to the Leinster minor football semi-final and both were on the end of big beatings.

Offaly began by putting 7-30 past Kilkenny in round 1 and went on to reach the quarter final following a big 2-16 to 1-8 win over their neighbours Westmeath.

However, that is where their Juggernaut came to a crashing end as they went down by 6-13 to 0-6 against Dublin in the semi-final.

Laois also got to the Leinster semi-final but were beaten 3-11 to 0-5 by Kildare.

Who is the winner likely to face?
Dublin are chasing their fourth straight Leinster U-21 football title and they will play Longford next Wednesday night for a place in the final.

Longford caused an upset by defeating Kildare, the side who have lost the last two finals to Dublin, in the quarter final.

And they will have to produce another giant killing performance if they are going to prevail here. But, the likeliest outcome is that the winner of Laois and Offaly will face the Dublin – Leinster minor champions three years ago – in the final.

What’s the betting like?
Laois are slight favourites at a price of 5/6 with Offaly at 5/4 and the draw at 7/1.

In the outright betting for the Leinster U-21 football championship, Laois have been installed as second favourites to lift the trophy at 6/1.

Dublin are still heavy favourites at 1/3 ahead of Longford at 7/1 and Offaly at 8/1.

READ ALSO – Magic Moore inspires 14-man Laois to victory

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Stradbally native Alan Hartnett is a graduate of Knockbeg College who has worked in the local and national media since 2008. Alan has a BA in Economics, Politics and Law and an MA in Journalism from DCU. His happiest moment was when Jody Dillon scored THAT goal in the Laois senior football final in 2016.