Division 1 hurling relegation play-off: Westmeath 3-24 Laois 1-26
A 63rd-minute goal from substitute Eoin Keyes was crucial as Westmeath guaranteed themselves Division 1 hurling for 2024 with a hard-earned win against Laois in a very entertaining relegation play-off in Thurles on Saturday afternoon.
Scores came thick and fast right from the first whistle, with Willie Maher’s charges looking marginally the livelier team in the early exchanges. Laois led by 0-8 to 0-5 when Ciaran Doyle teed up Joey Boyle and he flicked the ball one-handed to the net for an equalising goal in the 14th minute.
Joe Fortune’s troops took the lead for the first time in the 26th minute, the sliotar falling kindly for Niall O’Brien who advanced goalwards before flicking it past Enda Rowland. Unanswered points from Maher (a free), James Keyes, and Jack Kelly tied up the scoring yet again, but Ciaran Doyle edged the Lake County ahead by 2-10 to 0-15 with the last puck of the first half.
Free-takers Killian Doyle (three) and Maher (two) shared the first five points of the second half. Killian’s twin brother Ciaran pounced for the first score from play in the half in the 44th minute. It continued to be difficult to separate two evenly-matched teams and they were tied (2-19 to 0-25) when the all-important third Westmeath goal came with seven minutes of normal time remaining, substitute Eoin Keyes powering forward and unleashing a great low shot to the net.
With Killian Doyle off injured, sub Darragh Clinton slotted over a crucial free in the 70th minute to put his side 3-21 to 0-26 ahead.
Rowland came forward to blast home an injury-time goal from a free for the O’Moore County, but veteran sub Derek McNicholas’ late brace of classy points gave Westmeath vital breathing space and ensured that Laois will operate in Division 2 next spring.
WESTMEATH: N Conaty; D Egerton, C Shaw, J Bermingham; A Craig, T Doyle, J Galvin (0-1); S McGovern, R Greville (0-1); C Doyle (0-4), J Boyle (1-2), K Regan; D Glennon (0-1), K Doyle (0-11, eight frees), N O’Brien (1-0). Subs: E Keyes (1-1) for Bermingham (23 mins), P Clarke for Regan (52 mins), S Clavin for C Doyle (63 mins), D Clinton (0-1, free) for O’Brien (66 mins), D McNicholas (0-2) for K Doyle (70 mins).
LAOIS: E Rowland (1-0, free); FC Fennell, P Delaney, D Hartnett; R Mullaney, I Shanahan (0-1), P Lalor; P Purcell, J Kelly (0-2); A Dunphy (0-2), S Maher (0-8, seven frees), T Keyes (0-2); M Phelan (0-1), J Keyes (0-5), S Bergin (0-2). Subs: R King (0-2) for Lalor (39 mins), W Dunphy for Bergin (52 mins), PJ Scully for T Keyes (61 mins), J Duggan (0-1) for Phelan (68 mins).
Referee: S Stack (Dublin).