by James McMahon
In what has been a disappointing year so far, Justin McNulty and Laois know that a decent back-door run is a must.
After relegation from the top flight of the Allianz League, Laois surrendered the initiative in their Leinster preliminary clash with Longford and agonisingly lost by a point.
No doubt their manager will be feeling the pressure, when also taking into account last year’s heavy defeat to Kildare in the qualifiers.
He will, however, take comfort at having this home draw against a side, just coming off the back of a heavy defeat to Meath.
Carlow’s fighting spirit was shown in the way they salvaged a draw against the Royals in their Leinster quarter-final tie, but the subsequent 15-point defeat in the replay will have drained their confidence ahead of the trip to Portlaoise.
Laois show three changes from the side that went down to Longford on 20 May. Jamie Kavanagh comes in at No 4 in place of Peter O’Leary, while Kevin Meaney moves from right half forward to centre back, with Shane Julian making way.
Damien O’Connor takes Meaney’s place in attack, where Colm Kelly will start at No 15. There is no place in the XV for Billy Sheehan, with Colm Begley taking over the No 11 berth.
Daniel St Ledger’s hamstring injury is a blow to Carlow’s cause and with doubts over captain Shane Redmond, how manager Luke Dempsey would have wished for more time to prepare. Much focus will again be on Brendan Murphy in midfield and the scoring prowess of JJ Smith up front to drive the Barrowsiders on
If the heads are right, they certainly won’t be in awe of their neighbours and recent history has shown that Carlow are never cannon fodder for any opposition in the qualifiers.
As for Laois, they know that on home soil they should have enough to win on Saturday. However, it’s the level of performance that will come in for most scrutiny as the side look to build a momentum that will ensure their participation across a few more weekends this summer.