The Laois football championships get underway this week from Junior ‘A’ up to senior and there’s also a full round of minor games. Yep, championship season is well and truly upon us and there’s a lot to look forward to.
Senior champions Stradbally will do battle with neighbours The Heath in round 1 and the other stand-out ties of the round see Graiguecullen take on Killeshin and Portlaoise square up against old foes Arles-Kilcruise.
But it is not just in the senior ranks that the juicy pairings exist. Right throughout the grades, there are a number of games which are interesting for varying reasons.
Here, we take a look at eight of the standouts:
SFC R1 – Stradbally v The Heath
For the second successive year, Donie Norton’s The Heath will face the reigning county champions in the first round of the championship.
The Heath came into the competition as league champions last year but were well beaten by Portlaoise and, in the end, only barely managed to stay up by beating Emo in the relegation final.
Stradbally had a nice run to the championship final and capped it by stopping Portlaoise from doing 10 in a row in dramatic circumstances thanks to Jody Dillon.
But form will go out the window when these two meet and a tight affair is likely to ensue.
SFC R1 – Graiguecullen v Killeshin
For so long Graiguecullen have ruled the roost by being the much the stronger of the Carlow border clubs but that is no longer the case.
The Barrowsiders endured a miserable championship campaign last year, ending up in a relegation semi-final where they needed a replay to beat The Heath and stay up.
Pádraig Clancy has taken the reins in Graiguecullen and, after a decent showing in the league, he will lead the team to face a Killeshin side who are improving all the time.
They boast Laois senior football captain Stephen Attride in their ranks along with the likes of Eoin Lowry, Shane Bolger, Adam Deering and Cathal Brennan.
The sides last met in a quarter final in 2013 with Graiguecullen winning 2-13 to 2-11 but now could be the time for the Killeshin men to get one over their big rivals.
SFC R1 – Portlaoise v Arles-Kilcruise
An animal is always at its most dangerous when it is wounded – and to that end, it will be very interesting to see how Portlaoise react in 2017 after their crown was stolen from them by Stradbally last year.
Malachy McNulty’s side will square up against old rivals Arles-Kilcruise in round 1, a meeting which regularly took place at the business end of the championship up until a few years ago.
But Kilcruise are not the force of old and the Town will be favourites to get 2017 off to a winning start.
IFC R1 – Timahoe v Rosenallis
The tie of the first round in the IFC sees last years’ beaten finalists come up against the Laois and Leinster junior champions.
On paper, Timahoe, who had five Laois senior football panellists this, should have way too much quality for Rosenallis.
But Paddy Dunne’s side have caused more than one upset on their incredible run through county and province in 2016 and they will be hoping that form can continue.
They gained promotion from Division 2 of the league ahead of Timahoe and this one will be close.
JFC – Group A
The draw for the JFC threw up a humdinger of a group as three neighbours will do battle this summer.
Camross will certainly feel like the odd ones out after they were placed in a group containing Stradbally, Park-Ratheniska and The Heath.
Park-Ratheniska will be favourites to advance from the group, having been narrowly edged out in the final last year by Rosenallis.
But there will be an almighty scrap for second place between the remainders. And don’t rule out Camross who won Division 5 of the league and boast a number of senior hurlers.
U-21 FC ‘A’ R1 – St Joseph’s v Courtwood-Emo-The Rock
This one won’t take place until the autumn but it’s worth looking forward to all the same. St Joseph’s are plotting to win three U-21 titles in a row but they face a very stiff test in round 1 when they take on minor champions Emo-Courtwood-The Rock.
The Kellyville outfit have been imperious at this level in recent years, defeating Portlaoise in 2015 and Sarsfields in 2016 to take the title.
But Emo-Courtwood-The Rock, or St Paul’s as they are known at younger age grades, have been making significant progress at juvenile level and they won’t roll over easily.
Minor FC ‘A’ QF – Ballyroan-Abbey v Emo-Courtwood-The Rock
Two of the strongest sides in the competition have been drawn together in the opening round of the MFC.
In what is also a repeat of last year’s final, which Emo-Courtwood-The Rock won, this should be a star-studded affair.
Between the teams, we could have as many as ten Laois minor panelists on the field and they will serve up a thoroughly entertaining affair which will be difficult to call.
Minor FC ‘A’ QF – Portlaoise v Portarlington
On paper, the four strongest sides at this level will play one another in the quarter finals of the minor championship tonight.
Portlaoise had nine players with the Laois minors this year while Portarlington had three.
But Portarlington are Minor League champions after they comprehensively defeated Ballyroan-Abbey and this one is impossible to call.