Laois will head to O’Connor Park this evening in search of a place in the Leinster football semi-final, which would be the first time to do so since 2008, where they fell short to Wexford.
Speaking of Wexford, that win has given Laois a much need positivity boost and the atmosphere surrounding Laois football is at its highest level for a long time now.
Laois are currently the only undefeated team in the country, having not lost a game since the beginning of the National Football League. Westmeath on the other hand have had somewhat of an unfavourable lead-up to this game, having lost one their key men, James Dolan, following his decision to travel to the US, while they are missing a number of first choice players, including John Heslin who remains in doubt.
With Laois having displayed a huge show of character to overcome a tough test against Wexford, when all looked against them, and with Westmeath not particularly firing on all cylinders compared to years past, you can’t deny Laois fans the right to head into this game with an air of confidence.
John Sugrue has made three changes from the win over Wexford and a number of positional switches. Gary Walsh, David Conway and Ruaidhri C-Fennell all drop out of the starting 15. Fennell’s place in defence goes to Finbarr Crowley with captain Stephen Attride moving into the corner back position.
Paul Kingston comes in at centre forward with brother Donie moving to full forward in place of Gary Walsh while David Conway also loses out in favour of Portlaoise’s Benny Carroll.
The Westmeath team has also been named – and there is no place for John Heslin, who was rumoured all week to be a doubtful starter. They have named two debutants – Luke Loughlin and Ronan O’Tool who will both start in the full-forward line.
LAOIS: Graham Brody; Stephen Attride, Mark Timmons, Gareth Dillon; Trevor Collins, Colm Begley, Finbarr Crowley; John O’Loughlin, Kieran Lillis; Alan Farrell, Paul Kingston, Damien O’Connor; Ross Munnelly, Donie Kingston, Benny Carroll.
WESTMEATH: Stephen Gallagher; Mark McCallon, Sam Duncan, Jamie Gonoud; John Egan, Alan Stone, Noel Mulligan; Denis Corroon, Darragh Daly; Kieran Martin, Callum McCormack, Ger Egan; Luke Loughlin, Ronan O’Toole, John Connellon.
What has Westmeath’s season been like so far?
Westmeath began the season in good fashion, defeating Laois twice in the O’Byrne Cup and reaching the final, which was played two weeks ago, losing to Meath by nine points.
They had a mixed league campaign, in which they won four games and lost three. They beat Derry, Fermanagh, Wexford and Sligo, while they lost out to Armagh, and midland rivals Longford and Offaly in their final two games which derailed their promotion hopes.
What’s the history between the sides?
In terms of championship history, we have to head back to 14 years ago when Laois and Westmeath played a two-part thriller Leinster Final, which saw Laois lose their crown and Westmeath claim their first Leinster title ever under the guidance of Paidie O Sé.
That game was the build up of almost 10 years of rivalry where Laois and Westmeath battled for Leinster minor and U-21 titles. Most of those games were played out in Tullamore as well, and on those occasions Laois came out on the losing side, a theme which the Laois side will be hoping to reverse this year.
In recent times, Laois came up against Westmeath in this year’s O’Byrne Cup, losing both matches but both teams have changed since then as Laois have welcomed back key forward Donie Kingston, while Westmeath have lost vice-captain James Dolan, a number of their considered best defenders, while captain and star player John Heslin remains a doubt through injury.
It will be intriguing to see how the two fare this weekend.
Who’s the referee?
The highly-experienced Padraig Hughes from Armagh is the man in charge this evening. His last Laois championship match to referee was the 2014 Leinster quarter-final against Dublin in Croke Park while he also reffed the 2011 All Ireland Qualifier against Kildare.
What are the odds?
Laois head into this game as slight bookies’ favourites at 4/5, while Westmeath are not too far behind at 5/4. That shows that this game is a tight one to call so it will be useful to know that a draw is 15/2.
When, where and how much?
5pm on Saturday, May 26 in O’Connor Park, Tullamore. It’s €20 for adults for stand while terrace is €15, while students and senior citizens will be able to claim €5 rebate upon entrance with relevant I.D. – Stile No: 8 (Stand) and Stile No: 18 (Terrace). U16s are €5 to both stand and terrace.
Where can I follow the game?
We’ll be live-blogging the game on LaoisToday.ie as well as giving some updates on our new LaoisToday Sport Snapchat account.
For those wanting to listen to commentary, Jack Nolan will be on duty on Midlands 103 providing you blow by blow commentary where he’ll have former Laois player Chris Conway and former Westmeath player Denis Glennon, alongside him.