The Kilkenny minor hurlers are facing a repeat of last year’s Leinster final, but Laois will stand strong against the black and amber tide.
Until recently, a trip over the border to O’Moore Park in Laois would spark no signs of concern from any Kilkenny encampment.
In the last few years however, the strong emphasis on developing under-age hurling has seen the county go from strength to strength - but still fail to claim a Kilkenny scalp.
The Laois minors will be looking to change that when they host the Cats in Saturday’s Leinster minor hurling semi-final (throw-in 5.30pm).
While Kilkenny have come out on top in their last three championship meetings, signs of Laois progression have been evident.
In last year’s Leinster final Kilkenny crushed Laois with an 11 point victory, but that will only spur the O’Moore men on even more.
Kilkenny minor hurling manager Pat Hoban believes that this Laois side are not a team to be dismissed.
“Laois have a very strong team,” he said. “We know they’ve put a huge amount of work into this particular squad. They’ve played a lot of challenge matches with very good results.”
“We’ve had a look at Laois and we know they’re a dangerous side,” he added. “They caused serious problems for Offaly in their championship game.
“They have fast, lively forwards that will need to be contained during the game.”
Kilkenny’s needs for containment are made all the more difficult by the news that Tommy Walsh, Daniel O’Connor and Tadgh O’Dwyer will miss the game.
No luck with injuries
“They are unavailable through injuries, and that’s tough going,” said Hoban. “There’s been no luck in that regard.
“Hopefully we get a bit of good fortune before the game, but we’re hoping that the rest of the squad stay fit and sound.”
While a win on Saturday would see Kilkenny reach the Leinster final again, Hoban has eyes only for Laois.
“We are only concentrating on Laois,” he stressed. “They are our sole concern.
“Dublin still have to play Wexford at home,” he said of the other semi-finalists. “That’s far from a foregone conclusion.”
Having lost to Dublin in their opening game, a win over Carlow has lifted the mood in the camp.
“We had a lot of doubters, a lot of people still questioning the minor team,” said Hoban. “We wanted a performance and we got a good one.
“We suffered a heavy defeat to Dublin in the first round, and thankfully we got a win over Carlow with a good performance there. Since then the mood has definitely picked up with the lads.
“There were lots of things on the day that could have been better as well,” he added. “We looked at how to improve in these places.
“It was definitely good to get a win for confidence as much as anything.”
Laois have pumped time and resources into their development. It has started to pay dividends for their sides.
While they haven’t managed to claim a Leinster crown in recent years, their performances have earned respect from Kilkenny.
O’Moore Park is also a factor in this Leinster decider. The stand is quick to fill up with local support, and their shouts have been known to edge their side towards winnings results.
The Laois game will be a big test for the players, many of whom have had other exams on their minds in recent weeks.
“The Leaving Cert is currently our biggest obstacle,” said Hoban. “We are no different to any other county, with 10 of our panel currently involved with the exams.
“Thankfully we still have a bit of time to work with the lads before the match.”
The Kilkenny players will be itching for another crack at the Dubs in Croke Park, but Pat spelled it out in black and white.
“This match with Laois is all we’re concerned with,” he said. “They are our only focus.”