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Cha Dwyer in action against Westmeath in the 2016 Allianz Hurling League.
Cha Dwyer in action against Westmeath in the 2016 Allianz Hurling League.

Preview: Leinster SHC Round Robin

Sunday April 23

Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Round Robin

Laois v Westmeath, O'Moore Park, 3pm

A year ago in a crunch Allianz Hurling League promotion/relegation play/off these counties collided at O'Connor Park, Tullamore.

Westmeath had just won the Division 2A title and were motoring well, but despite having struggled in Division 1B Laois found a way to win.

It was a vital victory for Laois, who preserved their status at that level again in 2017 following a dramatic win over Kerry.

During those matches Laois' resources and resilience have been tested, but last month's Kerry triumph offers a glimmer of hope.

In the group stages Laois' form was mixed, but the manner in which they carved out a win when the issues was delicately poised against Kerry bodes well.

Ross King was in splendid form that evening registering 13 points, including six from play, while Cha Dwyer has been effective at centre back.

Getting King heavily involved in every tussle is precisely what manager Eamonn Kelly wants to do, however there are doubts surrounding the fitness of Stephen 'Picky' Maher and Dwyer ahead of the game.

Fourteen different Laois players contributed scores in that epic 1-30 to 4-20 victory over Kerry and they will be eager to reach that level of performance again.

Michael Ryan's work with Westmeath is worthy of the utmost respect. Injuries ensured Westmeath endured a difficult start this spring, but the midlanders finished their Division 2A campaign in better form.

A last weekend win in Antrim illustrated how much Westmeath had evolved following a disappointing opening.

Westmeath advanced from the Round Robin group in 2016 and that is the 'aim' again according to captain Aonghus Clarke.

“If you’re not trying to improve...we’re trying to do better than last year and we got out of it last year, so if we’re to get out of it again, it’s the same as that so we’re aiming to go one better to get out of it, to get a scalp then."

The first assignment in Portlaoise, though, will be revealing with two teams striving to make a positive statement, while also putting two valuable points into the account.

Meath v Kerry, Páirc Tailteann, 3pm

Meath make a welcome return to the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship, but they will be fully aware of the threat Kerry carry.

Fintan O'Connor's charges hurled well in some of their Allianz Hurling League Division 1B fixtures before ultimately suffering relegation.

That was a disappointment, but Kerry were competitive throughout most of their six matches in that competition.

The slender relegation play/off defeat to Laois was cruel when Kerry registered 4-20, but still lost.

Padraig Boyle was in potent goalscoring form during the League, while Colum Harty, Patrick Kelly, and Shane Nolan continue to impress for Kerry, who expect to be without Daniel Collins due to a serious hamstring injury.

O'Connor has forged a good reputation with his coaching work at various levels of the game so Kerry will be primed for these three Leinster Championship encounters.

Meath claimed Division 2B silverware, a further sign of their development following Christy Ring Cup glory last year.

The Royals won the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2009 and have made significant strides under Martin Ennis' stewardship in the past 18 months.

Mark O'Sullivan struck 3-5 in the Division 2B League Final win over Wicklow, while Steven Clynch also impressed.

Following a 13 year gap away from the highest level this promises to be a step-up in class for Meath, but it is a challenge they will relish.

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