Kilkenny v Laois
Tonight: O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, 7.30pm, Ref: Gearóid McGrath, Dublin
Latest from the medics and the management…Senior star Cillian Buckley returns to the Kilkenny team having missed their semi-final victory over Wexford due to a hamstring injury. Buckley’s inclusion sees an attacking reshuffle as John Power, younger brother of senior Richie, moves into full-forward with Walter Walsh switching to the corner, captain Kevin Kelly coming out to the wing and Cathal Kenny dropping to the bench. There is one positional change in defence with Brian Kennedy going to corner-back and Joe Lyng set to start at wing-back.
KILKENNY: Dylan Walsh (Thomastown); Jason Corcoran (John Lockes), Willie Phelan (Dunnamaggin), Brian Kennedy (St Lachtain’s); Luke Harney (Kilamcow), Richie Doyle (Barrow Rangers), Joe Lyng (Rower/Inistioge); Geoff Brennan (St Patrick’s), Ollie Walsh (Dicksboro); Kevin Kelly (St Patrick’s), Padraig Walsh (Tullaroan), Cillian Buckley (Dicksboro); Walter Walsh (Tullogher/Rosbercon), John Power (Carrickshock), Ger Aylward (Glenmore).
Laois make one change in defence as Bill Duggan comes into the team at centre-back in a move that sees Adrian Phelan switching to left corner-back and John Finane dropping out of the team.
LAOIS: Eoin Fleming (Borris-in-Ossory/Kilcotton); Packie Flynn (The Harps), Gearoid Burke (Camross), Adrian Phelan (Borris-in-Ossory/Kilcotton); Jim Fitzpatrick (Borris-in-Ossory/Kilcotton), Bill Duggan (Clough-Ballacolla), Nathan Unwin (Rathdowney-Errill), David Freeman (The Harps), Barry Dunne (The Harps); Willie Dunphy (Clough-Ballacolla), Pauric Lawlor (Ballinakill), Stephen Maher (Clough-Ballacolla); Brendan Reddin (Castletown/Slieve Bloom), Neil Foyle (Borris-in-Ossory/Kilcotton), Darren King (Rathdowney-Errill).
Checking the odds…Richie Mulrooney’s Kilkenny side are raging hot favourites at 1/25 with Laois priced at 9/1. The handicap betting has Kilkenny (-10) priced at evens.
Clues from the form guide…Kilkenny looked hugely impressive in their semi-final dismissal of Wexford by 3-20 to 4-6. They bounced back from a slow start when they trailed by 1-4 to 0-1 after 13 minutes to remarkably lead by 3-18 to 2-5 with 12 minutes remaining. Conceding four goals, two of those from close-range frees, hints at some defensive issues that need to be addressed but the scoring potential in their attack is reflected in that massive total that they amassed. Laois look to be a battle-hardened outfit judging by their three-point quarter-final win over Dublin, 2-14 to 0-17, and their narrow one-point success over Carlow in the semi-final, 0-15 to 0-14. In both games they showed a cool nerve in pulsating finales as they hauled back Dublin with a late scoring spree and coped with the subsequent pressure of favouritism against Carlow.
The game breakers are…That Kilkenny attack look a fearsome proposition that Laois must try to quell. Kevin Kelly, Walter Walsh and John Power racked up a combined total of 3-11 in the semi-final win over Wexford with Kelly’s freetaking, Walsh’s physique and Power’s opportunism causing untold problems for the opposition rearguard. They’ve been strengthened further by the return of Cillian Buckley to their starting fifteen and if matters are not working out on the pitch, then a bench that features Dicksboro’s impressive forward Martin Gaffney can be employed. Senior panellists Willie Phelan and Richie Doyle anchor a strong defensive unit.
Laois have endured a torrid time of it at senior level of late but Gearóid Burke, Barry Dunne, Willie Dunphy, Stephen Maher, Neil Foyle, Nathan Unwin and Brendan Reddin have at least acquired experience in that grade that has stood to them in their Laois U21 endeavours. Maher’s scoretaking is particularly important as he has amassed 0-16 in the two games Laois have played to date while Burke is the defensive lynchpin and Foyle is a good target man at the edge of the square. They will need all of them to shine.
Gazing into the crystal ball…Ultimately it’s difficult to see Kilkenny slipping up here. They have class all over the pitch and players with huge experience from All-Ireland winning colleges teams with St Kieran’s and All-Ireland minor winning teams with Kilkenny in 2008 and 2010. Travelling to Portlaoise for this clash will not faze them. It’s a massive occasion for Laois hurling given the weak condition that their senior team are currently in. Kilkenny will represent a step up in quality from the opponents they have faced so far but Laois have shown good mental fortitude to date. Home soil and a vociferous crowd backing them should be of assistance but the threat that Kilkenny attack carries should help deliver their first Leinster title in this grade in three years.
Join us later this evening as we go minute-by-minute with all the action from the Leinster U21 final and provide updates of the Leinster MFC semi-final between Dublin and Kildare, and the Munster JFC final between Clare and Kerry.