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Westmeath full back Tommy Doyle consoles Meath hurler Damian Healy.
Westmeath full back Tommy Doyle consoles Meath hurler Damian Healy.

Championship talking points

By Cian O'Connell 

Laois and Westmeath advanced from the Leinster SHC Round Robin series, while Championship action edges closer for several counties.

Here are some of the main Championship talking points.

Westmeath won when it mattered

The Leinster SHC Round Robin series has been a happy hunting ground for Westmeath in recent years.

During the past two campaigns Michael Ryan's developing team has hurled in 10 Championship matches.

In 2017, though, Westmeath had been forced to deal with defeats against Laois and Kerry.

Ultimately it meant that only victory would be enough to have a chance of progressing when neighbours Meath visited TEG Cusack Park on Sunday.

After offering glimpses of their potential with clever bursts against Laois and Kerry, Westmeath finally delivered a more substantial display.

Ryan has toiled diligently alongside former Kilkenny goalkeeper Michael Ryan in an effort to improve the midlanders'.

A raft of youngsters have been introduced to the inter-county arena by Westmeath, who were prompted by the excellent Tommy Doyle at full-back.

Doyle continues to earn plaudits for his gutsy defensive displays with Westmeath's clean sheet critical in this encounter.

In attack Killian Doyle, a player with significant potential, accumulated a 1-3 haul which carried huge relevance.

Now Westmeath are guaranteed at least two more summer matches with Offaly next on the agenda. "It's an opportunity in two weeks, but no more than that," Ryan says. We've got to go out to perform.

"We've got to improve a lot of aspects of our game - if we do that then we have a chance.

"There is a big winning tradition in Offaly, so we'll have to produce the performance of our lives to have a chance."

Laois generating momentum

At this stage of the year every little thing counts so Laois are encouraged by a four match winning streak.

The thrilling Allianz Hurling League Division 1B relegation play/off triumph over Kerry injected hope into the Laois camp.

Eamonn Kelly's charges have followed that win with three further triumphs in the Leinster SHC Round Robin.

A spirited Westmeath were shrugged off, then Meath were taken care of with the minimum fuss, while Kerry, a side that has caused Laois problems, were also overturned in Tralee.

It means that Laois enter an interesting Quarter-Final tussle against Wexford quietly optimistic about causing a surprise.

Kelly is stitching an effective team together with Ross King and Patrick Purcell dovetailing nicely at centrefield.

In Tralee King's free-taking was precise confirmed by a 0-13 haul, while Purcell burst forward to nail 1-2. That is a serious return, while Cha Dwyer's form also bodes well.

Undoubtedly Wexford will be a step-up in class, but it is the type of a challenge Laois are eager to embrace.

Rory Horgan and Jack Goulding, Kerry, and Leigh Bergin, Laois, following the Leinster SHC Round Robin clash at Austin Stack Park, Tralee.
Rory Horgan and Jack Goulding, Kerry, and Leigh Bergin, Laois, following the Leinster SHC Round Robin clash at Austin Stack Park, Tralee.

Thurles tussle

All Ireland champions Tipperary are busy preparing for Sunday's intriguing Semple Stadium encounter against Cork.

Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and Seamus Callanan are both nursing injuries so Michael Ryan will hope two key attackers are available for the contest.

Cork's Allianz Hurling League campaign did feature some good moments, including a triumph over Tipperary.

That result does have a caveat attached, Tipp had already secured a place in the knock-out stages, nonetheless, it was a performance Cork took heart from.

Now Kieran Kingston's youngsters want to deliver when the summer stakes are piled high.

Throughout 2016 Ryan had a steely Tipperary primed for every outing. Tipperary's attitude and application was exemplary, but the League Final loss to Galway caused a bit of a stir.

Ryan will be demanding a response when Cork visit the hallowed Thurles turf - a match worth monitoring beckons.

The wait is nearly over

Twelve teams involved in six fixtures means an important Gaelic Football Championship weekend edges closer.

St Tiernach's Park, Clones provides the ideal backdrop for Saturday's Ulster SFC preliminary round tie between Monaghan and Fermanagh.

On Sunday a typically passionate Mayo crowd will flock to Castlebar to see the Green and Red face Sligo.

Donegal, well stocked with emerging talent, collide with Antrim in Ballybofey. Can the shrewd Rory Gallagher construct a new team capable of challenging for serious honours?

In Leinster three fixtures are scheduled; following a second successive League promotion, Louth, play Wicklow. Laois' encounter with Longford will be a revealing 70 minutes for both counties, while the prize for the winners of Carlow and Wexford is a glamour game against standard bearers Dublin.

A half dozen counties will progress in their respective provincial competitions, the others will be seeking to stay afloat in choppy qualifier water.

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