Kerry hurling manager Fintan O’Connor is hoping Laois will “put the feet up and relax” when they visit Austin Stack Park this Sunday.
The two sides clash in the final round of the Leinster qualifying group and with two wins already in the bag, coupled with a scoring difference of plus 18, the midlanders are all but certain of their place in the provincial quarter-finals.
Behind them, there’s a major scrap developing for the second quarter-final berth.
Kerry and Meath both have two points, with the Kingdom currently sitting second in the table on account of their marginally superior scoring difference — minus four to Meath’s minus nine, while Westmeath have yet to register a win.
Should Meath overcome Westmeath then Kerry must do the business against a team who they’ve built up quite the rivalry with since joining Division 1B of the league at the beginning of 2016.
O’Connor’s charges had the better of Laois during the league’s round-robin stage both this year and last, as well as last year’s play-off to determine who would contest the relegation decider. There was no such play-off this year and so the meeting of the two counties at O’Moore Park on April 1 became a straight relegation final, Laois’s 1-30 to 4-20 extra-time triumph condemning their opponents to Divison 2 hurling in 2018.
O’Connor says this weekend’s opponents are the team to beat as far as the Leinster qualifying group is concerned.
“Laois are the form team at the minute. They had a massive win against Meath and we had a struggle against Meath,” he remarked. “We’ll be under pressure on Sunday but we have to go in with a hope of winning. It’s kind of in our own hands. If we can get a win it should maybe see us through.”
He added: “Laois are plus 18, so hopefully they’ll come down and put the feet up and relax and we can get a result.
“We know what to expect and we’ll just have to be better than we were so far this year if we’re to be competitive against them.”
Just as a ticket to the quarter-finals is on the table, so too is a return slip to the Christy Ring Cup were Kerry to suffer a comprehensive defeat and Westmeath turn out a victory on home soil.
“That’d be very tough on the lads and hard enough to take too. We just have to take care of our own business and try and get a result against Laois,” O’Connor continued.
The very man who guided them into hurling’s top tier is now looking after this weekend’s opposition.
O’Connor, however, doesn’t see his players viewing Sunday as a grudge match against Eamonn Kelly.
“In fairness to Eamonn, he had massive success in Kerry and the lads would have good regard for him. He brought Kerry hurling forward and the lads appreciate that. Now, I suppose you always like to get one over on a former friend or mate or team-mate or a person that was in charge of you but I don’t think it comes into it too much.
“The big thing for Kerry hurling is we have to try and get a result against Laois.”
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