It’s not often in the GAA world that you’re knocked out of the championship and still have a game to play the following week.
But that’s the situation the Laois hurlers find themselves in a week after losing to Waterford in the All Ireland hurling qualifiers.
It had been known prior to the start of the National Hurling League back in May that the bottom teams in Division 1A and 1B would face a relegation playoff after the championship finished.
That was pencilled in for August 8 as a curtain raiser to one of the All Ireland semi-finals but after finishing bottom of their respective groups, Laois and Westmeath agreed to play it as soon as they were both finished their championship campaigns.
With Westmeath winning the Joe McDonagh Cup last Saturday evening, it meant that this weekend was the available date – with Laois GAA particularly keen to get it played given the 2020 club championships that have to be completed.
Laois are aiming to maintain Division 1 status they have held since 2013.
The winners of this evening’s game will be in Division 1B next year alongside Waterford, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Antrim and Dublin. 1A will be comprised of Galway, Limerick, Wexford, Cork, Clare and Offaly.
The losers will be in Division 2A which alongside Carlow, Down, Kerry, Meath and Kildare.
While this will be Laois’s third weekend on the trot to be in action, it will be fourth in a row for Westmeath following what were essentially knockout games against Carlow (0-23 to 0-18) and Kildare (2-19 to 1-21) and then the final against Kerry in what was their most comfortable win, 2-28 to 1-24.
It was a different story in the league where they were in an incredibly strong group. Though they ran a much-changed Waterford team to three points, they suffered big defeats in all their other games, going down 5-34 to 1-16 to Galway, 7-27 to 0-15 to Cork, 3-26 to 0-18 to Limerick and 4-27 to 0-16 to Tipperary.
Laois got closer in their games, though still lost all five.
As well as long-term injury absentees like Mark Kavanagh, Eric Killeen and Ronan Broderick, Diarmuid Conway, Lee Cleere and Stephen Maher are unavailable today too though Willie Dunphy has been named to play after being forced off injured last week against Waterford and Ryan Mullaney is included on the bench after missing last week’s game.
The long-serving Matthew Whelan is listed at full-back for his first championship start of the year with Fiachra C Fennell reverting to midfield to form a new partnership with James Keyes and Jack Kelly moving to wing-back.
When, where, what time?
The game throws in at 7.30pm this evening in O’Moore Park. The attendance is capped at 500 with the limited tickets only available to the clubs.
The Laois team that is named shows one personnel change to the side that lost to Waterford last week with Matthew Whelan in for the injured Stephen Maher.
Whelan is named at full-back with Sean Downey moving to the corner, Fiachra C Fennell reverting to midfield and Jack Kelly moving to wing-back.
The Westmeath team is unchanged from the one that beat Kerry seven days ago.
LAOIS: Enda Rowland; Donnchadh Hartnett, Matthew Whelan, Sean Downey; Podge Delaney, Ciaran McEvoy, Jack Kelly; James Keyes, Fiachra C Fennell; Paddy Purcell, Willie Dunphy, Ciaran Collier; PJ Scully, Cha Dwyer, Ross King. Subs: Paul Simms, Liam Senior, Frank Flanagan, Ryan Mullaney, James Ryan, Aaron Dunphy, John Lennon, Ciaran Comerford, Eoin Gaughan, Liam Delaney, Ciaran Byrne
WESTMEATH: Noel Cooney; Darragh Egerton, Tommy Gallagher, Conor Shaw; Aaron Craig, Tommy Doyle, Aonghus Clarke; Cormac Boyle, Robbie Greville; Davy Glennon, Killian Doyle, Joe Boyle; Ciaran Doyle, Niall Mitchell, Niall O’Brien
How come Laois have home advantage?
Lady luck hasn’t always shined on the Laois hurlers – but they have benefitted somewhat here.
As Laois had only two home games in their regular league campaign and Westmeath had three, Laois are given home advantage.
This will be the first championship clash between Laois and Westmeath since the 2019 Joe McDonagh Cup final which Laois won 3-26 to 1-21.
Westmeath players to watch out for
Centre-back Tommy Doyle is an inspirational and highly-rated player as are the Doyle brothers from Raharney, Killian and Ciaran in attack.
Niall Mitchell is a regular scorer too and hit 1-4 in the win over Westmeath while Davy Glennon, a former All Ireland winner with Galway, has linked up with Westmeath too this year after being left off the Galway panel and he hit 0-5 last week.
What are the odds?
For the first time this year Laois are favourites and are priced at 1/3. Westmeath are 3/1 and the draw is 10/1. On the handicap betting, Laois -4 are 10/11.
Is the match on TV?
TG4 are showing this live meaning you don’t need GAA Go, the laptop and to be messing with cables. We’ll also be live blogging all of the action while Midlands 103 are providing radio commentary