By Micil Glennon
Laois v Galway, Portlaoise, 3.30pm
Reigning Leinster champions Galway open their defence against a Laois side who have already achieved their season’s goals.
Seamus Plunkett’s men are back in Allianz Hurling League Division 1B after league promotion and have already seen off Antrim and Carlow in the Championship, both of whom would have fancied their chances somewhat.
GAA/GPA Player of the Month Cahir Healy pointed out that the O’Moore county have come a long way in a year, no matter what happens against Galway.
He told the Irish Independent: "I think we just got our act together in terms of our commitment and effort in training and we stabilised during the league. We won the [Division 2A] league, which was our big goal at the start of the year.
"What we'd be looking at is to put up a performance [against Galway] and see what we're at.
Galway boss Anthony Cunningham admitted that last season’s exploits have taken a toll on his men, saying they were “tired”, especially towards the end of the league.
The big question is can the Tribesmen repeat their 2012 exploits, which saw them fall agonisingly short against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.
They started and finished their league campaign with a win and a loss to the Cats and another clash is likely, provided they get past Wexford or Dublin in the semi-final.
Cunningham will want the midlanders to put it up to his side, not least because if Kilkenny do make the final, it will be on the back of a test from Offaly and what will surely be a strong challenge from the other quarter-final winners.
Cruising past Laois into the Leinster decider is far from ideal.
In an age when hurling is struggling in so many counties, Laois’ revival is to be welcomed.
They will come up against their stiffest test this year in O’Moore Park but, if beaten, they’ll go into the qualifiers in much better shape than has been the case in years.
Highlights of all the weekend’s action on The Sunday Game on RTÉ Two from 10.00pm