Injury-hit Laois include five debutants

Five players, including goalkeeper Michael Nolan, will make their championship debuts for Laois in Saturday's Leinster SFC quarter-final clash with Wicklow at Dr Cullen Park (throw-in 7pm).

Portlaoise clubman Nolan gets a chance to impress following the inter-county retirement of Fergal Byron, while newcomers Cahir Healy and Mark Timmons both have roles in the Laois full-back line.

The 19-year-old John O'Loughlin will make his championship bow alongside Padraig Clancy in the O'Moore county midfield.

Clancy, who has been struggling with an ankle injury, is not expected to last the full 70 minutes so Arles-Kilcruise clubman Kevin Meaney could join O'Loughlin in a new-look centre-field partnership.

The midlanders' fifth and final debutant is Colm Kelly, the younger brother of former All-Star defender Tom. Kelly will start at full-forward, flanked by Colm Parkinson and ace free-taker MJ Tierney.

Speaking ahead of his side's championship opener, Laois manager Liam Kearns said: "We started the season without eight of the 2003 team and were relegated in the league.

"We've lost some more players since and now Brendan Quigley, and we're going to be starting a handful of debutants so I don't think there's any danger of any of us being complacent.

"We drew with Kildare in the league and had to go to extra-time to beat Wicklow in the O'Byrne Cup and they were particularly strong in midfield against Kildare so we know exactly what we're up against."

Among the players who Kearns is missing are the aforementioned Quigley, who injured himself in a work-related incident last week, and Noel Garvan, who is recovering from ankle surgery.

However, both Tom Kelly and Joe Higgins have come out of retirement to give Laois a much-needed boost during a difficult time for the county's senior footballers.

Saturday's clash will be only the 12th championship tie between the counties with Laois having won eight games to Wicklow's three.

The counties last met in the Leinster championship in 2002 when Laois won by seven points.

Their most recent meeting prior to that was in 1986 when Wicklow carved out a famous win over Laois, who had won the National League title a few weeks earlier.

This year's league campaign was a poor one for Laois. Together with London, they were the only team in the entire NFL not to win a game.

LAOIS (SFC v Wicklow): M Nolan; C Healy, M Timmons, J Higgins; T Kelly, D Rooney (capt), P McMahon; P Clancy, J O'Loughlin; R Munnelly, B McCormack, B Sheehan; MJ Tierney, C Kelly, C Parkinson.

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