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Justin can inspire a Laois win

IT'S an intriguing subtext to an otherwise relatively low-key Championship opener for these two Leinster final wannabes – the sideline battle of wits between two Armagh men, who soldiered together in the defensive trenches.

Justin McNulty and Aidan O'Rourke achieved the ultimate All-Ireland success as players. The bar is set lower in their adopted Leinster homes, but each side will view tomorrow as not only a winnable fixture, but a window of opportunity, with Dublin and Kildare on the other half of the draw.



McNulty is now in his third year at the Laois wheel; the prospect of him reaching that far looked a tall order in the immediate wake of their early provincial exit to Longford last year, having surrendered a six-point interval lead.

But to the credit of both management and players, Laois regrouped and surprised most neutrals in making it to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, where they caused an uncomfortable afternoon for Dublin too.

Their subsequent League was described by McNulty as "topsy-turvy", so it's not entirely clear which Laois will turn up.

This year's return of the prodigal one-time prodigy, Donie Kingston, is a potentially huge positive to an attack that lacked true cutting edge last summer. That is countered at the other end by the loss of the heroically tenacious Cahir Healy to hurling.



The Laois team looks reasonably strong on paper; the omission of Kevin Meaney and Padraig Clancy is a mild surprise explained by an apparent loss of form. Still, a bench that includes Meaney, Clancy, Billy Sheehan and MJ Tierney gives McNulty plenty of experienced options in what promises to be a tight contest.

That was the case last March when they drew (Laois 1-17 to Louth's 2-14) in a Portlaoise thriller.

With tension far higher and given the defensive background of both bosses, we anticipate less end-to-end thrills here. We also expect a Louth team, driven on by Paddy Keenan and Shane Lennon, to go very close ... but to leave town with no cigar.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Laois 8/15, Draw 15/2, Louth 2/1