Laois will get their National Hurling League campaign underway today when they travel to Limerick for a 2.30pm throw-in in the Gaelic Grounds.
In what is an incredibly tough start to the league, Laois’s first two opponents are Limerick – winners of two of the last three All Ireland U-21 titles – and reigning All Ireland senior champions Galway who come to O’Moore Park next Saturday.
Laois’s Walsh Cup campaign consisted of a win over Kildare and a heavy loss to Kilkenny and they’ll be hoping they can put that Kilkenny defeat behind them as they bid to hold on to their Division 1B status and challenges the top teams in the division.
Rathdowney-Errill players James Ryan and Paddy McCane will make their first Laois senior league starts. Ryan is named at midfield where he will partner club-mate Paddy Purcell while McCane is in the full-forward alongside another Rathdowney-Errill man, captain Ross King, and Neil Foyle.
Jack Kelly and Eric Killeen named as the two wing-backs, while Ballinakill’s Podge Lawlor makes his league return after an injury-disrupted 2017 campaign with Matthew Whelan at centre-back and Neil Foyle at full-forward.
The Laois team in full is: Enda Rowland (Abbeyleix); Lee Cleere (Clough-Ballacolla), Leigh Bergin (Shanahoe), Podge Lawlor (Ballinakill); Jack Kelly (Rathdowney-Errill), Matthew Whelan (Borris-Kilcotton), Eric Killeen (Rathdowney-Errill); Paddy Purcell (Rathdowney-Errill), James Ryan (Rathdowney-Errill); Ben Conroy (Slieve Bloom), Cha Dwyer (Ballinakill), Cian Taylor (Portlaoise); Ross King (Rathdowney-Errill), Neil Foyle (Borris-Kilcotton), Paddy McCane (Rathdowney-Errill)
The Limerick team is: Nickey Quaid; Tom Condon, Seamus Hickey, Richie English; Diarmaid Byrnes, Dan Morrissey, Paddy O’Loughlin; Cian Lynch, Paul Browne; Tom Morrissey, Darragh O’Donovan, Barry O’Connell; Aaron Gillane, Seamus Flanagan, Gearoid Hegarty.
What’s the history between the sides?
The most recent meeting between the two teams was in last year’s league fixture which was played in O’Moore Park in round four of the 2017 NHL. If that day is to be repeated then it’ll be a very bleak start to this year’s league, as Laois lost out on the scoreline of 6-33 to 1-19.
What Limerick players should we watch out for?
Despite being without the Na Piarsaigh players who are in the All Ireland club semi-final, they have named a strong side that includes some well-known players. All-star Seamus Hickey lines out at full-back, while one of the best young hurlers around, Cian Lynch, lines out at midfield along with captain Paul Browne.
Aaron Gillane is making his debut but he has performed very well so far in the Munster League, with his free-taking being a stand-out attribute. Laois will count themselves to be lucky with the likes of Shane Dowling, David Dempsey and Peter Casey are not able to feature for Limerick as they are currently tied up with Na Piarsaigh who are preparing for an All Ireland club semi-final next month.
What’s Limerick’s season been like so far?
Limerick have had a very good start to the season as they captured the Munster Hurling League title two weeks ago beating Clare by six points. Along the way to that victory they defeated Kerry and Cork.
Is there a curtain raiser?
As good as the Gaelic Grounds is, this time of the year would test the best of the county grounds around the country with just one match let alone a double header, so it’s a stand alone fixture.
What are the odds?
Laois are priced at 14/1 to cause an upset with Limerick at a staggering 1/100 to over turn the O’Moore County, and a draw at 40/1.
How much does it cost to get in?
It’s €10 for adults. Children U-16 go free.