The Laois hurlers get their 2020 Allianz Hurling League campaign underway this evening when they welcome Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford side to MW Hire O’Moore Park.
It’ll be Laois’s first time to play in O’Moore Park since last year’s magical win over Dublin in the All Ireland Qualifiers.
Tonight’s game marks the start of a busy schedule which sees Laois play five games in six weeks – ending on Sunday, March 1, when Brian Cody and Kilkenny roll into town.
When, where, what time?
This evening (Saturday, January 24) at 7pm in the newly named MW Hire O’Moore Park.
How much is it to get in?
How are Laois going?
After a wonderful championship run last year, Laois are facing a big step up this year with a tough set of fixtures in the Allianz Hurling League to be followed by a first season in the new format Leinster championship.
While Eddie Brennan has infused a lot of new young talent into his squad, he has lost a number of players too including a selection of regular starters from last year.
Cha Dwyer, Joe Phelan and Stephen Maher, who all started big games last summer, have opted off the panel while Mark Kavanagh and Eanna Lyons are out injured long term and the likes of Matthew Whelan, Aaron Dunphy Lee Cleere, John Lennon, Eric Killeen and Neil Foyle are all out at the moment too.
Ben Conroy, PJ Scully and Sean Downey, who were all involved last season too at one stage or another, aren’t available either.
Of the players who have come in, Liam Senior, Ciaran McEvoy and Fiachra C Fennell have earned a starting place while panel members last year like Ciaran Comerford, Aaron Bergin and Stephen Bergin will be hoping to kick on in 2020 and James Ryan and Cian Taylor have returned after missing last season.
Laois beat Carlow in the Walsh Cup but lost to Westmeath and Dublin in the early days of January in the other group games.
What is the Laois team?
Eddie Brennan and his management team have named seven of the side that started in the All Ireland quarter-final against Tipperary last summer to start tonight against Wexford.
New captain Enda Rowland is in goals and vice-captain Willie Dunphy is full-forward. Ryan Mullaney moves from centre-back to full-back with Podge Delaney going to centre-back from the wing.
Paddy Purcell goes to centre-forward having spent most of last season in midfield while former captain Ross King lines up alongside Dunphy and Stephen Bergin in the full-forward line.
Fiachra C Fennell and Ciaran Comerford form a new-look midfield, Donnacha Hartnett (who started in the Joe McDonagh Cup final last year) returns to the starting team after injury. Portlaoise duo Ciaran McEvoy and Aaron Bergin start at wing-back and wing-forward respectively with Liam Senior making his debut at corner-back and James Ryan starting at wing-forward.
LAOIS: Enda Rowland (Abbeyleix); Liam Senior (Clonaslee), Ryan Mullaney (Castletown), Donnacha Hartnett (Mountmellick); Jack Kelly (Rathdowney-Errill), Podge Delaney (The Harps), Ciaran McEvoy (Portlaoise); Fiachra C Fennell (Rosenallis), Ciaran Comerford (The Harps); Aaron Bergin (Portlaoise), Paddy Purcell (Rathdowney-Errill), James Ryan (Rathdowney-Errill); Ross King (Rathdowney-Errill), Willie Dunphy (Clough-Ballacolla), Stephen Bergin (Clough-Ballacolla)
How does this league work?
The league has been re-structured this season so instead of having a Division 1A and 1B, which were essentially Division 1 and 2, there are two groups of six of equal status now.
And where previously the top four in each went into the quarter-finals with the bottom two playing off for relegation, now only the top three go through – the top team to the semi-finals and second and third into the quarter-finals.
The bottom team in each group will play off to see who is relegated to Division 2A for 2021.
Who else in Laois’s division?
After hosting Wexford tonight, Laois are away to Dublin next Sunday, February 2, away to Clare on Sunday, February 16, at home to Carlow on Saturday, February 22, and at home to Kilkenny on Sunday, March 1.
The other group looks stronger on paper – so spare a thought for Westmeath who are back in Division 1 for the first time since 1990 and face games against Tipperary, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford.
What do we know about Wexford?
Wexford are the reigning Leinster champions having won the provincial title for the first time in 15 years last season, a success that included two epic games against Kilkenny – a draw in the group stages in Wexford Park that secured their Leinster final place and then the final itself.
They then only narrowly lost a classic All Ireland semi-final to Tipperary.
Davy Fitzgerald is back for a fourth season in charge and today’s game will be the second in a week in Portlaoise for them. They beat Galway in the Walsh Cup final last weekend.
What’s the Wexford team like for tonight?
It’s strong enough. Though the likes of Matthew O’Hanlon, Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Liam Og McGovern and Lee Chin aren’t included, they still name 11 of the side that started against Tipperary in the All Ireland semi-final last year.
WEXFORD: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohue, Liam Ryan, Joe O’Connor; Damien Reck, Shaun Murphy, Paudie Foley; Kevin Foley, Jack O’Connor; Cathal Dunbar, Rory O’Connor, Aidan Nolan; Aidan Rochford, Conor McDonald, Paul Morris.
What are the odds?
Wexford are the hottest of 1/10 favourites with Laois 7/1 and the draw at 16/1. The handicap is eight points.
What else is on this weekend?
In Laois’s Division 1B, Kilkenny v Dublin in Nowlan Park tomorrow is the big game while Clare host Carlow in Ennis.
In Division 1A, the meeting of Tipperary and Limerick in Thurles is the standout fixture this evening – though Waterford are at home to Cork tomorrow and Galway are at home to Westmeath.
Where can I follow the action?
It’s not on TV but you can expect updates from both Midlands 103 and RTE on radio. As always, LaoisToday will be live blogging the entire game