All bets are off for revived hurlers

Joe McDonagh Cup: Kerry v Laois, Saturday June 8, Austin Stack Park, 3pm

Laois’ Ross King and Kerry’s Pádraig Boyle will do battle in the Joe McDonagh Cup (Round 3) in Austin Stack Park on Saturday afternoon. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Laois’ Ross King and Kerry’s Pádraig Boyle will do battle in the Joe McDonagh Cup (Round 3) in Austin Stack Park on Saturday afternoon. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Damian Stack

After the Kingdom's stirring victory over Westmeath in Mullingar, Kerry boss Fintan O'Connor suggested that his men play at their best when they "have a bee in their bonnet", when they feel they've a point to prove, when frankly they're pissed off.

The way Kerry approached the task at hand in Cusack Park suggested as much. O'Connor's men played with a righteous indignation. They played with a fire in their bellies, horsing into the tackle and the challenge, not one single backwards step.

The question now becomes one of whether or not that was a one off, whether or not they can maintain that level of performance.

There's nothing to suggest they can't and there's plenty to suggest that, even in a performance born of a certain amount of emotional energy, there was a lot of quality too.

Leaving Cusack Park we had the impression that these guys can hurl even better. Take Pádraig Boyle as an example. It's not like he had a bad game last time out, it's just that things didn't quite go his way.

On any other day he would have bagged an early goal - a point-blank save from Westmeath shot-stopper Conor Lynch denied him - and had he got a first goal there's every chance he would have built on it.

That's just the type of player that Boyle is, he won't be satisfied with a single point from play. He'll be out for more this time around and Kerry will need Boyle at his best if they're to get the better of Laois this weekend.

More pertinently Kerry will need goals - as they did last year when they bagged three, all in the first half, the first coming after ninety seconds for Jack Goulding. Those goals knocked Laois off their stride and proved the difference between the sides.

It helped of course that Laois lost their full-back Leigh Bergin inside the opening ten minutes and lost defender Pádraig Lawlor to a red card, but even had they remained on the pitch such was Kerry's level of performance that we don't think the result would have been any different.

Since then Laois have a new manager, former Kilkenny senior hurler and Under 21 manager Eddie Brennan and look a side very much on the up, performing creditably in Division 1B and reaching the quarter-final (where they lost to eventual champions Limerick).

Since then they've been the form team in the McDonagh Cup with impressive victories over rivals Offaly and, most worryingly for Kerry, over their first round tormentors Antrim.

In hindsight though it's quite obvious that we read too much into the game with Antrim - Kerry were massively undercooked going into the game because of the club football championships and even then things didn't really go their way on the day, including the sending off of John Buckley.

Buckley's suspension is up and he'll be back for this weekend, another major boost to the Kingdom and you'd imagine he'll find his way back onto the starting fifteen for the game, probably at half-back although midfield is another possibility.

Kerry's defence will need to be as resolute again as it was last time out as Laois have serious firepower at their disposal. Against Antrim Eddie Brennan's men had eleven different scorers, that's fearsome.

Charles Dwyer's five from play mark him out as one to watch as always, while goals for Willie Dunphy and Paddy Purcell suggest Bryan Murphy and Seán Weir will have their work cut out for them this weekend.

We suspect too that O'Connor will as he did in Mullingar play Mikey Boyle as a sweeper alongside Patrick Kelly in an effort to keep tabs on Dwyer and Mark Kavanagh. Then again if goals are what are required, it's possible O'Connor will leave Boyle on the edge of the square.

Even after the Kingdom's brilliant performance last time out, Laois will go into the game as favourites. They seem to be a more settled side, playing better more consistently and after last year have every reason to want revenge.

None of which is to say Kerry can't win. They can - any team that has two Boyle brothers and Shane Conway in their ranks can win any game - but if they do it's unlikely to be by the ten point margin they did last year.

Kerry can absolutely dig a win out here, but the smart money is probably still with Laois on this occasion.

Verdict: Laois