Justin McNulty names strong Laois side for Leinster first-round clash against Louth
Cahir Healy’s defection to hurling not an issue for manager
Laois manager Justin McNulty: has been able to call on 11 of the players that started in their All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin last August. Photograph: Inpho
At first glance the Laois team to play Louth in Sunday’s Leinster football first-round clash looks at full strength, and it pretty much is. Donie Kingston has returned to his familiar berth at centre forward, having opted out last summer, basing himself in the US. Doubts had surrounded Kingston’s role this summer too after he only played limited game time in the league, but those concerns appear to be behind him now.
On top of that manager Justin McNulty has been able to call on 11 of the players that started in their All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin last August: although Laois exited the Leinster championship tamely at the hands of Longford, they then beat Carlow, Monaghan, Leitrim and Meath in the qualifiers, before ultimately exiting to Dublin, losing 1-12 to 0-12.
All 11 will bring considerable experience to Portlaoise: Eoin Culliton, Peter O’Leary, Darren Strong, John O’Loughlin, Conor Boyle, Brendan Quigley, Ross Munnelly, Colm Begley, Gary Walsh, Damien O’Connor and Colm Kelly. One name missing is Cahir Healy – one of the cornerstones of their defence last summer, and including the Dublin game. In fact Healy started in both corner-back positions and also full back (against Monaghan), and clearly would have made the team for Sunday had he been available.
Healy has returned his first love – hurling – having made the call last March. Most managers would give such a move their cautious approval, and yet McNulty has nothing but full praise and support for Cahir.
“Well I was not surprised at all,” says McNulty. “Cahir is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, more so than any man you have ever met in your life. He’s incredible, a warrior, and his integrity shines through.
“His first passion is hurling. It’s a simple matter. He was trying to juggle both and you guys know the level of commitment expected at intercounty level in hurling and football these days is phenomenal. Cahir just felt he had to go back to his first love. I respect him and admire him for making that decision. He’s the sort of player we’d love to have with us. The door is open, wide open, to come back any time.”
Cahir’s move is proving fruitful as the Laois hurlers beat a fancied Antrim last Saturday, 1-16 to 0-13, with Cahir as influential as ever at wing back. That sets up a Leinster quarter-final against Carlow on Saturday week, the winners there having a crack at Galway in the Leinster semi-final, on June 15th.
McNulty’s former Armagh team-mate and now Louth manager Aidan O’Rourke has also named his starting 15 for Sunday, which includes three debutants. Corner-back John Bingham and forwards Conor Rafferty and Ciarán Byrne are each handed their first senior championship starts.
Byrne is one their recent finds, and indeed caught the eye of the AFL scouts and spent some time with the Carlton club before returning home for the league. Darren Clarke and Conor McGuinness, who have been sidelined recently with injuries, fail to make the starting line-up.
LAOIS (SF v Louth): E Culliton; M Timmons, D Booth, P O’Leary; D Strong, J O’Loughlin (Capt), P McMahon; C Boyle, B Quigley; R Munnelly, D Kingston, C Begley; D O’Connor, G Walsh, C Kelly.
LOUTH (SF V Laois): N Gallagher; P Rath, D Finnegan, J Bingham; J O’Brien, D Crilly, A Reid; P Keenan, B Donnelly; A McDonnell, B White, C Rafferty; C Byrne, S Lennon, D Maguire.-