Laois 0-12 Westmeath 0-10
It was a case of third time lucky for Laois when they won an engrossing if dogged Leinster championship midlands derby in Tullamore’s Bord na Mona O’Connor Park.
Having lost to Westmeath twice in the league, the group stages and Division Three final, Laois were good value for their win on this occasion. They laid the foundations in the first half and were able to hold on against the expected Westmeath onslaught in the second half.
A semi-final against Meath was the reward for Laois and they will be confident of giving that a lash while Westmeath will be bitterly disappointed at their overall performance here as they head into the qualifiers.
Laois were way the better team in the first half and were not flattered at all by their 0-8 to 0-2 interval lead. The wind was quite strong, blowing straight down the field but even that didn’t fully explain their dominance.
Laois played well, working hard on and off the ball and their tackling was very good but Westmeath were strangely stagnant, struggling to get anything going in an attacking sense. Apart from the score, Laois’ dominance is reflected by the fact that they also had seven first-half wides while Westmeath’s only one came from the boot of Ronan O’Toole four minutes into injury time.
Laois might have been further ahead had they been able to get quicker ball into their full forward line where Evan O'Carroll and Paul Kingston brought their A game with them – O'Carroll scored five points in the first half, three from frees and Kingston got two from play.
Laois moved the ball much better from the throw-in and had five points on the board by the 19th minute. Westmeath’s first point came from a Ger Egan free in the 22nd minute – he also got their other point from a free in the 29th minute, by which stage Laois had seven points on the board.
Conor Boyle’s 37th minute point gave Laois a six-point half-time lead but with the wind advantage to come, there was still a window of opportunity there for Westmeath.
Westmeath improved on the resumption but it was still hard work for them. John Heslin got their first point from play, a super score, 15 seconds after the resumption but it certainly didn’t open the floodgates.
After 50 minutes, Laois held a double scores lead, 0-10 to 0-5 but Westmeath were becoming increasingly dominant. They also had a couple of goal chances – John Heslin failed to get the right power with his 40th minute shot and the wise option would have been to take the simple point while Laois corner back, Gareth Dillon made a great block to deny Denis Corroon a goal a few minutes later.
The resulting‘45’ from Luke Loughlin flew wide but it was now clear that this one was going down to the wire.
Two points from Ger Egan, one free, made it a three-point game before a crucial point from Evan O’Carroll steadied the Laois ship.
As the game entered the closing ten minutes, Westmeath really began to drive at their opponents. They camped in the Laois half for extended periods but, despite that, struggled to create clear opportunities.
Laois pulled a lot of players back with the winning post in sight and it looked like they could pay a price as Westmeath brought it back to a point with two minutes left thanks to scores from Ronan O’Toole, Ger Egan (free) and Callum McCormack.
Five minutes of injury time was played but Laois defended superbly in this period. They retained possession very well, tackled efficiently and stopped Westmeath from creating an equalising chance. They broke forward a couple of times and one of these led to a 74th minute fisted insurance point from Eoin Lowry that ensured their victory. .
LAOIS: G Brody; D Booth, M Timmons, G Dillon; S O'Flynn, C Begley, P O'Sullivan; J O'Loughlin, K Lillis; D O'Reilly, C Boyle (0-1), D O'Connor; P Kingston (0-2), C Murphy, E O'Carroll (0-8, five frees).
Subs: R Piggott for Timmons (inj, 8 mins), M Scully for Murphy (h/t), D Kingston for Boyle (59), B Quigley for O'Connor (66), E Lowry (0-1) for O'Reilly (66), S Byrne for Begley (69). Yellow card: E O'Carroll.
WESTMEATH: E Carberry; K Maguire, R Wallace, B Sayeh; K Daly, N Mulligan, J Dolan; S Duncan, D Corroon; D Lynch, J Heslin (0-1), F Boyle; R O'Toole (0-1), K Martin, G Egan (0-7, six frees).
Subs: C McCormack (0-1) for Duncan (31 mins), L Loughlin for Boyle (h/t), D Giles for Corroon (60), Yellow cards: B Sayeh, K Martin, D Giles.
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).