The inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup competition commences this weekend with three interesting fixtures scheduled.
Laois' clash with Westmeath at O'Moore Park promises to be a lively tussle between two teams eager to make an impact this summer. Having preserved their Allianz Hurling League Division 1B status, Laois are heavily fancied, but they will treat the Westmeath challenge with the utmost respect.
Michael Ryan's charges started their Division 2A campaign brightly before eventually losing the decider to Carlow. That loss ensured Westmeath did not realise their spring promotion objective, but encouraging signs were evident for the Midlanders'.
Ryan continues to extract solid displays from his hard working panel, so delivering in the Joe McDonagh is now firmly on the agenda. That is what Laois intend to do, also, and Westmeath will be anxious to restrict the influence of Ross King, who is in prolific scoring form. Reaching a Croke Park decider is what all six teams involved crave, and the next month promises to be revealing.
Speaking at the launch of the competition, GAA president John Horan said: "Firstly, I would like to welcome all of the players from the competing counties to Croke Park – a venue they will all be aspiring to play at later in the coming months.
"The Ring, Rackard and Meagher finals will take place here on June 23 and eight days later the McDonagh Cup final will be played on the same billing as the Leinster hurling final giving all competing players something tangible to aim for.
"These competitions have been a welcome addition to our stable of championships since their inception, and I am pleased that the McDonagh Cup has been added this year in memory of a great man, and as recognition to the strides being made by a number of our counties. These games and competitions have provided welcome outlets for inter-county hurling at all levels and the pathway of progression for those counties who continue to promote the game. I wish all of the competing players and counties every success in the weeks ahead."