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Hurlers expected to overcome Laois

Impressive performances against Galway and Kilkenny in the Walsh Cup and Walsh Shield in Leinster in recent weeks suggest that Laois will prove difficult opponents for Clare in round two of the National Hurling League (Division 2) at Portlaoise on Sunday (throw-in 2.30pm).
The Midlanders didn’t have a game last week when the race for the title got underway, as their scheduled game with Kildare was cancelled due to inclement weather. It has, like most of the other games that fell foul to the weather last weekend, been re-scheduled for Saturday week.
The last competitive meeting of the counties at senior level was in round two of the league two years ago when both were in Division 1. That game was played in Scariff and Mark Flaherty, top scorer against Down last week, was also the top scorer on that occasion, with 1-12 to his credit.
While the team to face Niall Rigney’s Midlanders wasn’t announced at the time of writing, it is likely that there will be a few changes from that which started against Down.
Speaking after last Sunday’s win, Clare boss Ger O’Loughlin said he expected some of the injured players to be ready for action this week. While he didn’t name the players in question, Crusheen’s Gerry O’Grady was amongst the substitutes last week and may play this week, while John Conlon, a second-half substitute against Down, is likely to start.
With the quarter-finals of the Fitzgibbon Cup taking place this week, the Clare management team will be keeping their fingers crossed that all of their panellists will come through without injury. There are a huge amount of Clare players involved and these include Domhnaill O’Donovan, John Conlon (both with NUI, Galway), Darach Honan (with UCC) and Nicky O’Connell, Seán Collins and James McInerney (with LIT). All of these played against Down and are likely to be in the hunt for places again this week.
James Young is a key member of the Midlanders’ outfit and when these sides clashed in Scariff in 2008, he contributed 1-10 to his side’s tally of 1-15. He will need to be marked tightly and Clare cannot afford to concede too many frees, as Young is an accomplished freetaker.
Speaking with both John McIntyre (Galway manager) and Anthony Daly (Dublin manager) in the past week, both sounded a warning to Clare about the Laois challenge this season. McIntyre was particularly impressed by the Midlanders’ form when they played Galway just three weeks ago. Extra time was needed before the Tribesmen got the upperhand to progress in the Walsh Cup, a competition they won two weeks ago when they defeated Dublin.
Crusheen’s Gerry O’Grady and Pat Vaughan are likely to come into contention for places in the Clare defence if they have recovered from the injuries that kept them out of the Down game.
In Clare’s games to date this season, most concern has been about the forward line. This sector struggled somewhat last week when there appeared to be an over-reliance on Mark Flaherty for scores. John Conlon is likely to be in the starting line-up, provided he is fully fit, while Colin Ryan may also come into the reckoning this week.
With home advantage, Laois will be keen to maintain their early season good form and a win over Clare would be a huge boost to them. Clare need to win to keep up their challenge for a quick return to the top division, so there can be no room for complacency. They cannot take anything for granted but even with a relatively new look and inexperienced side, they should be strong enough to return with the points.

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