The battle for the Leinster championship resumes in earnest this weekend. Fresh from their preliminary rounds of qualification Laois take on Galway in O’Moore Park, Port Laoise this Sunday in a double header with Antrim and Wexford.
Laois reached the quarter finals of the league where they beat Offaly and Antrim while they lost to Cork, Wexford, Limerick and Clare. They lost their quarter final to Clare however only by four points; something not many counties can boast of following a meeting with the current All-Ireland champions.
Galway’s league campaign ended at the semi-final stage where they met with Kilkenny and lost a place in the league final by three points. Galway won three of their games, beating Dublin, Tipperary and Limerick. They lost to Waterford and Kilkenny twice, while they drew with Clare.
At last year’s Congress the GAA introduced a round-robin series in which Antrim, Carlow, Laois, London and Westmeath would battle it out. The top two teams then qualified for the Leinster championship quarter-finals while the other three teams were then out of the championship.
Laois and Antrim topped the series. This means that Laois are going into their fifth game in six weeks. Nine of the u-21 side who were defeated by Dublin during the week are on the senior panel; so for some players this will be their sixth game in as many weeks. Stephen Maher, Tommy Fitzgerald and Matthew Whelan are the ones to watch out for.
Laois won three out of their four games in the round robin series defeating Westmeath, Carlow and London while they lost to Antrim by two points. Laois have come a long way since their first meeting with the Tribesmen in the Leinster championship. In 2009 Galway arrived at O’Moore Park and beat Laois 5-29 to 0-17.
In last year’s meeting between the two counties Laois gave Galway a scare. Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett’s men were a determined outfit that caused Galway problems and were leading 0-8 to 0-7 at the interval. Laois were leading by two points with fifteen minutes to go but Galway improved and eventually came out as the victors.
After the game Galway manager Anthony Cunningham admitted there was “considerable room for improvement”. Who is to say Laois cannot run Galway close again this year?
Galway meanwhile have several injury concerns ahead of their Leinster opener. Niall Healy has been ruled out for the rest of the season after a clash in the club championship at the weekend. The Craughwell man was involved in a collision playing against Turloughmore and sustained damage to his cruciate knee ligament. Other injury concerns are Andy Smith (ankle ligament damage), Iarla Tannian (hamstring) and Ronan Burke (calf) however it is thought that Tannian and Burke could still feature on Sunday.
Galway had a promising league campaign and rising talent has emerged upfront in the shape of Pádraig Brehony, Cathal Mannion and Jason Flynn. Galway also seem to have figured out their troublesome backlines; Turloughmore duo Ronan and Daithí Burke coupled with Iarla Tannian have improved and strengthened Galway’s defence.
Speaking to Galway Bay FM during the week Galway forward Jonathan Glynn said that “You can’t have any excuses can you? You have to turn up on the day and produce.”
Some may question Laois; that burn-out and fatigue may be an issue, however they are sure to show up with their characteristic intensity. Galway meanwhile have been involved in club action for the past several weeks. Anything but a win for Galway will cause an upset.
Amy Forde, Pundit Arena