'We haven't had a full team all year'
Laois manager Kelly down some of his most experienced players ahead of trip to Parnell Park to take on wounded Dublin team
Dublin will meet a plainly depleted Laois team in Parnell Park on Saturday in their first step towards salvaging something from a turbulent year.
It's been the story of Laois' season.
"We've been very, very unlucky this year," their manager, Eamonn Kelly explains ahead of Saturday's All-Ireland SHC qualifier in Parnell Parnell (7.0).
"We've never had a full team. It's unbelievable."
Not only have Laois been deprived players, they've been down some of their most experienced and talented in a season when major redevelopment to their squad has taken place under Kelly.
'Cha' Dwyer has a grade two hamstring strain suffered in a challenge match two weeks ago and won't see action for another two at least.
Willie Dunphy dislocated his finger in Laois' Leinster loss to Wexford which subsequently required an operation and a lay-off time ranging between six to eight weeks.
All of which was bad enough before the collateral damage suffered on Sunday in Portlaoise in their victory over Carlow.
First, Ross King was sent off on a straight red card just 12 minutes in, a censure which contributed to putting Laois under serious pressure and necessitated a fourth-minute-of-injury-time point from Neil Foyle to finally shake Carlow off.
He will miss Saturday pending any appeal which, at the time of Kelly speaking to the Herald, didn't seem likely.
"Very uncharacteristic of him, to be honest. He would have a good record," Kelly argued.
"He was being held and he pushed back to get away. And it looked an awful lot worse than it was."
Then Stephen 'Picky' Maher came off late on with a knee injury, the extent of which Laois are yet to establish but which is nevertheless certain to force him out of Saturday's meeting with Dublin.
"I can't see how he could play at the weekend," Kelly confirmed.
For context, King hit 0-20 - including 16 placed balls - across Laois' three previous Championship games with Wexford, Westmeath and Kerry.
Maher has been their top scorer from play across those games, leaving Laois with the appearance of a team who could struggle for scores against a Dublin side for whom defence is currently their most saleable asset.
Yet for all that, Kelly isn't inclined to moan.
"It is what it is. We could dwell on it. But we have some great young fellas there and they haven't let us down so far," he points out.
"If we had a full squad, I'd be delighted going to play against them with such a quick turnaround. Because the game would stand to you.
"When you're down so many, you'd like a bit more time. But it is what it is.
"It would be worse to be in Carlow's situation and have no game to play. We're there and we're happy to get on with it."
Luckily in Kelly's eyes, there were no marks for artistic merit last Sunday.
"I thought our hurling was poor," he admits. "I think at half-time, we had only four hooks and blocks, which is the lowest we ever had.
"But they battled hard in the second."
This is Kelly's fourth season managing at inter-county level with a third different county.
After winning the Christy Ring Cup in his second year with Kerry in 2015, the Puckane native was appointed manager of Offaly before the beginning of last season.
After a difficult year, he turned down the option of a second and hadn't intending on managing anyone in 2017 until the call came from Laois.
Now, Kelly calls it "probably one of the most enjoyable years I've ever had. We have a young, honest bunch of players. And I really mean that.
"The backroom team and the selectors are excellent.
"You actually enjoy going training. The county board give us anything we want. And they're all the things you need."
Of Dublin, he notes, "they might have vulnerable if they drew Tipperary. But they're probably happy to have drawn us."
And despite a season that has seen them relegated from Division 1B, hammered by Galway in Leinster and currently shy a smattering of their best players, Kelly suggests "they didn't become a bad team overnight either.
"They've had a couple of good Under 21 teams coming through there.
"They will be very well organised. Ger Cunningham is coaching them and he was coaching Laois for the last three years, so he would know everything there is to know about Laois.
"Although he might not know a lot of these young lads because we've had a huge number of them coming in this season.
"But from that side of things, I've always liked Dublin as a hurling county.
"There's a big game in them," Kelly concludes, "and I just hope it's not Saturday night."