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How the Laois football team is shaping up ahead of the 2021 championship campaign

Photo: Paul Dargan

After a bitterly disappointing league campaign, the Laois senior footballers are gearing up for the 2021 championship which gets underway this weekend against Westmeath in O’Connor Parl.

Mike Quirke’s second year in charge has not gone to plan as Laois are still in search of their first win.

Their league campaign brought heavy defeats against Clare, Cork and Kildare before an albeit improved display against Down ultimately resulted in relegation to Division 3 following a fourth loss.

Over the four games, almost every member of the Laois panel saw some sort of action.

Of those that didn’t, Portlaoise’s David Seale departed midway through while James Kelly and Diarmuid Whelan missed out through injury – albeit the latter is now fit once again.

There is mixed news on the injury front too. Graiguecullen duo Danny O’Reilly and Trevor Collins missed the defeat to Down but they are now in contention to return for Sunday’s game.

Robbie Pigott, Donie Kingston and Michael Keogh are carrying knocks while Alan Farrell and Benny Carroll are both ruled out through injury.

Here we take a look at the likely contenders for the various positions.

Goalkeeper

Clonaslee’s Niall Corbet played his first ever games as a goalkeeper in 2020 and had barely put a foot wrong before his goal-costing error against Down the last day.

Courtwood’s Matthew Byron played in a recent challenge match against Tipperary and is certainly well in contention – but it would be a surprise to see manager Quirke opt for change now.

Full-back line

Graiguecullen’s Mark Timmons is nailed on to start at full back once again and he was joined throughout the league by Gareth Dillon and Robbie Pigott.

But with injury doubts surrounding the latter, Graiguecullen’s Trevor Collins could get the nod.

Killeshin’s Shane Bolger has been injured since the second round of the league while the aforementioned James Kelly has not played at all.

Half-back line

This is probably the most competitive line on the field. Finbarr Crowley, Eoin Buggie and Sean O’Flynn started there in the recent challenge game and did really well. The latter two had excelled for the clubs the previous week too.

Paddy O’Sullivan, Colm Begley, Seamus Lacey, Trevor Collins and Alan Farrell predominantly played here in the league – so big decisions lie ahead of manager Quirke.

Midfield

For the last number of years, this has picked itself with captain Kieran Lillis and long-term partner John O’Loughlin almost dead certainties.

That may well prove to be the case again but Danny O’Reilly has shown he is well capable of playing there if fit.

His agility gives him something different than the other two – although he is another one who could find a home on the half forward line too.

St Joseph’s Brian Daly showed his worth when he was thrust into action on a few occasions this season too.

Half-forward line

Laois’s struggles this year have centred around a lack of scores and that is something they will have to improve upon.

Eoin Lowry, Paul Kingston, Sean Byrne, Michael Keogh, Mark Barry, Marty Scully and Benny Carroll are among the players to have featured here – while the returning Diarmuid Whelan is an option.

Laois have lacked a real vocal point at centre forward and if fit, it could be worth moving Donie Kingston out here.

Full-forward line

Evan O’Carroll started all of the games to date in here with Donie Kingston beside him for all bar one with Gary Walsh and Colm Murphy also featuring.

Colm Murphy played well against Down and followed that up against Tipperary too so he should be well in the running.

SEE ALSO – Laois footballers looking to put league woes behind them as championship clash with Westmeath looms

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Stradbally native Alan Hartnett is a graduate of Knockbeg College who has worked in the local and national media since 2008. Alan has a BA in Economics, Politics and Law and an MA in Journalism from DCU. His happiest moment was when Jody Dillon scored THAT goal in the Laois senior football final in 2016.