Laois overcome gutsy Westmeath challenge

Stephen Maher’s goal helps Séamus Plunkett’s side turn the tide

Laois’ first game in the Leinster senior hurling championship round robin group in Mullingar yesterday afternoon proved much trickier than many anticipated, as they were pushed all the way by a gutsy Westmeath side who will rue shooting 17 wides throughout what was a competitive, but scrappy, contest.

On the back of an outstanding display in the National League quarter-final against Clare, Séamus “Cheddar” Plunkett’s men were hot favourites against a side who had lost a week earlier to Antrim, when Laois had a bye.

However, the home team played with great determination and never allowed their opponents to settle in an error-ridden first half.

Poor shooting
Much of the shooting from both sides was poor and the teams were tied at just five points apiece entering added-time.

Westmeath then got an unexpected break when a free from the halfway line by Derek McNicholas went all the way to the net via a Laois defender’s hand. This left Westmeath ahead at the interval by 1-5 to 0-5.


The sides traded four points in the third quarter, the best of them a great score by McNicholas, leaving Westmeath still firmly in the driving seat, when Neil Foyle teed up Stephen Maher in the 52nd minute to drill home the equalising goal from 25 metres. Laois stepped up their performance at this juncture and centre half forward Willie Hyland, who was very prominent in the second half, quickly added a brace of fine points.

The visitors always looked the likely winners from then on. Tommy Fitzgerald’s fine score from play and a Maher free opened up a four-point gap by the 62nd minute.

Brian Hanley's charges continued to hurl with great spirit, but a number of attempts to find the net from frees and open play proved unsuccessful and Laois closed out the game with well-taken points from Foyle and Whelan.
LAOIS: E Reilly; D Maher, B Campion, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan (0-1, free), C Dunne; D Palmer, P Whelan; J Purcell, W Hyland (0-5), S Maher (1-4, 0-3 frees); N Foyle (0-1), T Fitzgerald (0-1), R King (0-1). Subs: C Dwyer (0-1) for Purcell (25 mins), JA Delaney for Stapleton (half-time), J Campion (0-1) for Dunne (45 mins), B Reddin for King (49 mins), J Brophy for Reddin (67 mins).
WESTMEATH: P Collins; K Duncan, T Doyle, L Varley; G Greville, A Craig, P Gilsenan; C Curley (0-1), E Price; R Greville (0-3), A Devine, D Gavin (0-1); N Conaty (0-1), D McNicholas (1-1, 1-0 free), N O'Brien (0-1). Sub: A Clarke (0-1) for Craig (39 mins).
Referee: C Browne (Galway).