Kilkenny set to begin title defence with six of the best

KILKENNY will parade six of last year’s All-Ireland U21 hurling winning side when they face Laois in tonight’s Leinster championship opener in Nowlan Park at 7.30pm.

Colin McGrath lines out in goal, Paul Murphy is named at right corner-back with Lester Ryan playing at right half-back. James Dowling starts at midfield with their attack featuring Colin Fennelly at right half-forward and John Mulhall in at full-forward. JJ Farrell and Mark Bergin, who both came on in last year’s All-Ireland win, start at midfield and right corner-forward respectively.

Kilkenny also include Conor Fogarty, who won an All-Ireland minor medal last September, at left corner-back and Martin Walsh, brother of senior star Tommy, who played for UL in this year’s Fitzgibbon Cup decider, at left half-back.

Laois boss Mattie Collier has received a massive boost by being able to call on the services of senior football stars John O’Loughlin and Ger Reddin for this clash. Both are named in attack, with O’Loughlin at centre-forward and Reddin at full-forward. Senior hurling panellists Willie Hyland and Dayne Peacock will also be key to Laois’s scoring hopes at left half-forward and left corner-forward respectively.

Elsewhere Laois name senior players Darren Maher and Matthew Whelan in pivotal defensive positions. But their hopes have been hit with the long-term absences through injury of Zane Keenan (broken leg) and Andrew Kavanagh (cruciate). Laois hurling achieved a fine success last weekend when their minor side ousted Dublin in the Leinster championship, but they face a tough task here. Kilkenny look to carry too much in attack and Colin Fennelly, Mark Bergin and John Mulhall should shoot them to victory.

KILKENNY: C McGrath; P Murphy, A Kearns, C Fogarty; Lester Ryan, D Langton, M Walsh; J Dowling, J Farrell; C Fennelly, M Kelly, Liam Ryan; M Bergin, J Mulhall, J Nolan. Subs: E Murphy, P Nolan, M Walsh, K Mooney, D Lyng, P McCarthy, N Cleere, S Maher, J Brennan.LAOIS: P Carroll; B Smith, D Maher, J Prior; B Galvin, M Whelan, B Stapleton; A Collier, T Burke; C Murray, J O’Loughlin, W Hyland; G Lanham, G Reddin, D Peacock.

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