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Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher is back available for selection with the Laois hurlers having recovered from a cruciate operation last summer.
Maher, who got injured last year against Carlow in the All Ireland Qualifiers, made his first appearance of the year in a challenge game against the Laois U-21 side last weekend and is in the reckoning for a place on the team for the opening round of the new Joe McDonagh Cup championship against Westmeath next weekend.
The return of the Clough-Ballacolla forward is a timely boost for Laois, who also welcomed PJ Scully back at the latter end of the league after a 14-month absence.
Laois play London in a practice game in Portlaoise tomorrow (Saturday) when Eamonn Kelly and his management team will get a last chance to assess their side before the championship begins.
There have been a couple of coming and goings since the league finished. While Maher’s return is an obvious lift, Cahir Healy is still a while away from a return from the same injury.
Ballinakill’s Sean Downey is doubtful for the remainder of the season having had pins inserted in his hand following a break. Downey started Laois’s first league game against Limerick and came on as a sub against Galway and Antrim before getting injured. Injury is also keeping Aaron Dunphy out after he had an impressive debut season in 2017.
Donnacha Hartnett, who featured in Laois’s first four league games, has dropped off the panel too as well as Portlaoise’s Aaron Bergin.
Last year’s county minors Padraig Delaney from The Harps and James Keys from Colt have departed the panel to concentrate on their Leaving Cert though Ciaran Comerford has stayed on while Liam Senior from Clonaslee has also linked up with the squad and will balance hurling along with their exam committments.
Fiachra Fennell from Rosenallis and Frank Flanagan from Portlaoise have also joined the setup in recent weeks.
Laois begin their campaign at home to Westmeath next Saturday, May 5, in what is the first of five games in a hectic six-week period. They playing Kerry away on Sunday, May 13, and then Antrim away six days later on May 19.
They are then at home to Carlow on Saturday, June 2, and away to Meath on Saturday, June 9. The top two teams will qualify for the first ever Joe McDonagh Cup final on Saturday, June 30, in Croke Park in what will be a curtain raiser to the Leinster senior hurling final.
The top two teams will also qualify for the All Ireland series where they will play either the third-placed team from Munster or Leinster. The winner of that game will then go on to an All Ireland quarter-final against one of the beaten provincial finalists.
Kelly and his management team are currently working off a 35-man panel. Ross King captains the side for the second successive year and is one of seven Rathdowney-Errill players included. Leigh Bergin and Neil Foyle are the vice-captains.
The Laois squad in full is: Enda Rowland (Abbeyleix); Podge Lawlor, Sean Downey, Cha Dwyer (Ballinakill); Eanna Lyons (Ballyfin); Matthew Whelan, Neil Foyle, Colm Stapleton, Stephen Dunphy, Eoin Fleming, PJ Scully (Borris-Kilcotton); Joe Phelan, Mark Dowling (Camross); Conor Phelan, Ryan Mullaney (Castletown); Liam Senior (Clonaslee); Lee Cleere, Aidan Corby, Willie Dunphy, Stephen Bergin, Stephen Maher (Clough-Ballacolla); Conor Quinlan (Kyle); Cian Taylor, Frank Flanagan (Portlaoise); Jack Kelly, Eric Killeen, Paddy Purcell, Ross King, Paddy McCane, James Ryan, Mark Kavanagh (Rathdowney-Errill), Fiachra Fennell (Rosenallis), Leigh Bergin (Shanahoe), Ben Conroy (Slieve Bloom), Ciaran Comerford (The Harps).