Waterford selector Dan Shanahan is wary of the All-Ireland qualifier draw which pits the Déise against Offaly next weekend.
“I know people will be expecting us to win, but it’s a very tricky game for us,” said Shanahan yesterday.
“A couple of years ago we did well to get past them in a tough league game, and going back further again, to the league in 2010, we beat them by just three points in a game in Dungarvan.
“Having said that, it’s good to get back on the road after losing to Cork in the championship. Obviously, that wasn’t in our plans, we wanted to go the front door route, but it is what it is and we have to face into the qualifiers.
“We had a chat last week and we’re back training, so we’re obviously getting ready for this weekend.
“It would have been better for every team to learn last Monday week who they’d be playing, but we know now and we’ll spend the next few days making our plans for Saturday evening.”
Shanahan confirmed that Waterford will select from a full panel for the qualifier game, though Stephen Bennett is ineligible, having been suspended for a facemask pull in the Munster SHC game against Cork.
The Waterford icon’s caution was echoed by Dublin manager Ger Cunningham, whose side face Laois in Parnell Park on Saturday: “The way we’re looking at it, this is now a different competition, a new competition, and we’re delighted to have a home draw.
“Dublin GAA is going well at present so we’d hope for a good turn-out of home support for us on Saturday.
“Laois had a good run-out the last day against Carlow and won a great game despite playing with only 14 men for most of it. That’s a sign of a fine side.
“We’ll be treating them with the utmost respect. They deserve it and certainly we’re in no position to do anything else than to treat them with respect.” Cunningham added: “The likes of Cian Boland and Dara O’Connell are more long-term injuries, they won’t be available for the weekend, while Oisin Gough is 50-50 for Saturday’s game. Apart from that we’re pretty ok.”
Laois defender Matthew Whelan fancies his side’s chances.
The Borris-Kilcotton man starred at centre-back for the O’Moore County in the preliminary-round win over Carlow, but it was a costly 70 minutes.
Both sides led during injury-time and it took a late free from goalkeeper Enda Rowland and a winner from Neil Foyle to separate the sides.
Just 28 players finished the game as Marty Kavanagh picked up two yellows cards, while Laois star Ross King was dismissed for a striking offence.
The latter will miss the meeting with the Dubs, while Cha Dwyer, Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher, John Lennon and Willie Dunphy are all likely to miss out through injury. Defender Dwane Palmer only made it to half-time against Carlow due to illness.
Manager Eamonn Kelly suggested he might need to send a busload of players to Lourdes in the hope of having them ready for this coming weekend.
“I don’t sure what sort of water, they have the baths over there,” smiled Whelan of its supposed healing powers. “Maybe it will work for us. Maybe transport them over here!
“We always said we have a strong panel; those lads are huge losses, there’s no question about that. But these things happen and it gives someone else a chance to step up.
“Sean Downey might have been a lesser-known player at the start of the year but now he’s well-known after that inspirational goal. Aaron Dunphy, Donncha (Hartnett) coming in for Dwane Palmer who has been sick, so there’s lads stepping up when they need to.
“It helps for the next day, we’re building a young team and it gives them exposure at this level.”
Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett made good strides with Laois in recent years after an embarrassing couple of seasons and now Tipp native Kelly has added to it with this gutsy win over their neighbours.
“They’re all sweet, I don’t rank them to be honest,” says the 29-year-old. “Currently it’s the best one because it keeps me in the championship for 2017 and gives us something to look forward to this weekend. It will be a huge game.
“There’s a huge carrot at the end of this,” he adds. “If you win this game, you’re (possibly playing a big game) in Thurles. That’s the big stage and when you want to get to.
“We think we’re good enough and hopefully we can deliver.”
In the pick of the qualiifer ties, beaten 2016 All-Ireland finalists Kilkenny will face Limerick Nowlan Park on Saturday evening.
The last time they met was the epic 2014 All-Ireland semi-final which Kilkenny edged on thier way to another crown.
Reigning champions Tipperary look to get their campaign back on track against minnows Westmeath at Semple Stadium on Saturday (5pm).
GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1:
Offaly v Waterford, Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, 3pm; Tipperary v Westmeath, Semple Stadium, 5pm; Dublin v Laois, Parnell Park, 7pm; Kilkenny v Limerick, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, 7pm (Sky Sports); referees TBC, ET if necessary.
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