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Westmeath hurling manager Michael Ryan.
Westmeath hurling manager Michael Ryan.

Preview: Leinster SHC Round Robin

Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Round Robin

By William Dunne

Sunday May 14

Kerry v Laois, Austin Stack Park, Tralee, 3pm**

It hasn’t even been six weeks since these two sides met in a high-stakes Allianz Hurling League relegation play-off which resulted in Laois sentencing Kerry to relegation to Division 2A.

This Sunday Kerry and Laois will clash once again with the stakes high - a chance to pencil in a Leinster Hurling Championship quarter-final.

That enthralling Division 1B relegation play-off saw 55 scores accumulated and with both team’s seeking a win in an attempt to secure a quarter-final spot, Sunday’s fixture could be another cracker.

In fact, Laois have went on a three-game unbeaten run since that match despite losing four of their five league matches prior to the win.

Although Kerry have a strong chance of advancing in the Leinster they still aren’t mathematically safe from relegation back to the Christy Ring Cup for 2017, such is the competitiveness of this year’s group.

Kerry racked up a score of 4-20 at the start of April and still couldn’t budge Eamonn Kelly’s men so they’ll need to be reliant on the likes of Shane Nolan and Mike Boyle who have registered 2-21 collectively against Meath and Westmeath.

It is a crucial match for Kerry especially after their 2015 Christy Ring Cup glory they’ll want to make another solid step in the right direction rather than slipping back into the trenches.

Laois, however, seem rejuvenated since that play-off and Kelly’s side will be determined to progress with a 100 per cent round-robin record.

At the heartbeat of the Laois team is the Rathdowney-Errill midfield duo of Ross King and Patrick Purcell.

King has scored 33 points in his last three games including frees while Purcell scored 3-11 from including a monstrous 3-06 from play which literally proved to be the difference as Laois beat Meath by 15 points two weekends ago.

Tipperary native Eamonn Kelly is the man leading Laois to a potential Leinster quarter-final channelling all his experience of inter-county hurling at this level having managed Offaly last year and Kerry previously.

Kelly was indeed the man who led Sunday’s opponents to their Christy Ring title two years ago and it is them only that he and his players are focussed on at the minute and not the potential prize at the end of it.

Speaking at the launch of the Leinster Senior Championship last week Kelly said: “All we are thinking about is Kerry at the minute. Technically we’re not through.

“We have to still get something out of it. We don’t want to be looking on our phones finding out score differences or any of that situation so that’s all we’re focussing on at the minute is the round robin.

“Listen, if the bigger teams are there to come that’s the prize at the end of that great, but at the minute we are not looking there.”

Westmeath v Meath, TEG Cusack Park, 3pm

This should be an interesting encounter with both teams in with a chance of reaching the knock-out stages or being relegated to the Christy Ring Cup.

Meath are the reigning Christy Ring Cup champions which brought them back to the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship after a 13-year-absence.

Royals manager Martin Ennis has ensured the progression after five straight wins in Division 2B of this year’s Allianz Hurling league, excluding their victory over Wicklow in the 2B decider helping them gain promotion.

Remarkably they didn’t relent heading into this year’s Leinster Round-Robin and opened with a fantastic victory over Kerry.

A win for Meath here, assuming Laois can fend off Kerry, will mean they could be facing either Offaly or Wexford on the last eight of the Leinster championship and they’ll look to the ever dangerous Mark O’Sullivan in the full-forward line who scored 3-6 from play against Wicklow and the accuracy of free-taker Steven Clynch.

Anthony Forde and Joe Keena have more or less cemented their place on the team wearing the number eight and nine jerseys and are fond of roaming up the field.

Westmeath, though, are walking a tight line, after losing their two fixtures against Laois and Kerry respectively.

The Lake County would have had high hopes entering the Leinster championship after reaching the quarter-final stage only to be beaten by Galway last year.

Westmeath will look to Robbie Greville and Niall Mitchell, who both have been influential in the campaign so far.

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