Wednesday 7 December 2016

Cheddar's bruised army ready to 'fight like hell' to stay among the elite

Michael Verney

Published 08/04/2016 | 02:30

Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett
Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett

His intention for the year had been to build on the progress of 2015 but Laois now lie in a precarious position with manager Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett expecting his charges to "fight like hell" to retain their Division 1B status against Westmeath tomorrow.

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Bridging a 43-year gap with a Championship win against neighbours Offaly was the fruits of their labour last season but Plunkett's squad is all change 12 months later, with a number of experienced hands hanging up their boots.

He likens their situation somewhat to Kilkenny's relegation struggles last year, and the ups and downs experienced by the current Irish rugby squad, and insists it takes time to form "a new team" after losing an array of seasoned campaigners.

They are winless thus far in the League and falling back to 2A, where they were when Plunkett started his reign in 2013, would be a massive setback for a county who have lifted themselves out of the doldrums following their 10-20 to 1-13 qualifier humiliation at the hands of Cork five years ago.

"It would certainly knock us back," he said. "The speed of the hurling and the higher standard allows players to learn faster; it would be much better to hang in there and rebuild a new team in that environment.

"There are some really good young players in Laois that will step into senior hurling, and for them to learn at that level is much more beneficial. It's hugely important and we've worked really hard to stabilise and try and use it as a launch pad.

"We'll be giving it every thing we have, we'll fight like hell for our 1B status."

Westmeath have impressed under Michael Ryan, conceding no goal in six League matches, and will pose serious problems to Laois, who suffered an 11-point drubbing away to Kerry last weekend and finished with just 12 players following straight red cards to star forward Willie Hyland and Ross King.

The sendings-off baffled Plunkett and their suspensions have serious ramifications for the O'Connor Park clash, with the Portlaoise clubman having "no doubt" that lower tier games are refereed stricter than high-profile contests.

"It's a body blow. I've looked back on the incidents and they were very strange decisions. I looked at the match in Ennis the following day and I saw the very same type of incident and there wasn't a bad blow in the whole game," he said.

Pressure

"Generally the referees in 1B and the lower divisions are starting out on the inter-county road and they're definitely playing by the rule book. And I think the fact that they are regularly observed puts them under a bit more pressure.

"Hurling is a very dynamic game and you've got to use your common sense. I think a referee should look at the rules and say 'did this happen in the course of a phase of play and could the player have done anything else about it?'

"If he can't then common sense should prevail. It's hard to fault referees, however, because they have to produce their own report on the game.

"But if you see any Division 1A games or Championship matches, you'll see a helter-skelter game with great action and the referee stands back and lets them at it."

After improving in leaps and bounds Laois simply cannot afford to take a step back.

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