Laois 1-18 Westmeath 5-24
Westmeath had lost nine of their last 10 hurling championship matches with Laois, stretching back to 1986, but the tables were turned emphatically in O’Moore Park on Saturday evening when they had 18 points to spare over their midlands rivals.
The last round of the Leinster championship was essentially a relegation decider between the counties with the losers dropping to the Joe McDonagh Cup in 2023.
But Westmeath were comprehensive winners, scoring four goals in the second half to save their status and send Laois down.
Having secured a famous draw with Wexford last week, Westmeath were fastest out of the traps with three points in the opening three minutes here, Niall Price, Joey Boyle and Killian Doyle all on target.
But Laois had the wind at their backs and they hit five of the next six points thanks to Cha Dwyer, Paddy Purcell, Ross King, Enda Rowland (free) and James Keyes to take the lead, Westmeath's only response coming from Doyle.
That nudged Laois ahead and while Joey Boyle and Cormac Boyle pointed either side of another massive Rowland free, Laois then got scores from Ben Conroy and corner back Pádraic Dunne to be 0-8 to 0-6 up at the 20-minute mark.
Stephen 'Picky' Maher missed a great goal chance to extend Laois's lead to five when Noel Conaty pulled off a fine save and though King tapped over a free, the game then took a turn in Westmeath's favour.
Eoin Keyes did brilliantly to come in along the endline and finish smartly from close range while Keyes, Doyle and Joey Boyle all pointed to have Westmeath 1-9 to 0-9 in the lead after 30 minutes.
Yet Laois were back level when King picked out Paddy Purcell with a lovely pass and his Rathdowney-Errill club-mate made no mistake to goal. Rowland landed his third free to put Laois in front once more but Jack Galvin and Killian Doyle (twice) replied for Westmeath.
James Keyes got the last score of the half with a point but at the break Westmeath led 1-12 to 1-11.
Laois played into the wind in the second half but had the better of the opening 10 minutes with Rowland, two from King and Conroy all finding the range.
Doyle and Niall O’Brien kept Westmeath within reach and Niall Mitchell’s brilliant goal in the 45th minute was a big moment.
There was only two points in it at that stage but the floodgates opened thereafter. O’Brien, Mitchell and Eoin Keyes got further goals and by the end there were a massive 18 points between the sides.
For Westmeath it rounds off a relatively positive season. They finish on three points in the Leinster championship and will play at this level again in 2023. They’ll also play in Division One of the league having won Division Two.
Laois enter a limbo period, knowing that a Kerry win in the Joe McDonagh final would likely save their top-flight status.
LAOIS: E Rowland (0-4, four frees); P Dunne (0-1), S Downey, D Hartnett; R Mullaney, L O'Connell, C McEvoy; J Kelly, P Purcell (1-1); J Keyes (0-3), C Dwyer (0-1), B Conroy (0-2); S Maher, R King (0-6, two frees, one 65), F-C Fennell.
Subs: A Corby for Dunne (h-t), PJ Scully for Maher, T Keyes for Kelly (both 54 mins), W Dunphy for Conroy (56), E Killeen for Mullaney (57),
WESTMEATH: N Conaty; D Egerton, T Doyle, C Shaw; A Craig (0-1), A Clarke, J Galvin (0-2); C Boyle (0-1), R Greville; J Boyle (0-5), K Doyle (0-7, four frees), N Mitchell (2-0); N O'Brien (1-3), E Keyes (2-1), D Glennon (0-3).
Subs: D McNicholas for O'Brien (57 mins), K Regan for C Boyle (61), S McGovern for Greville (66), J Gillen (0-1) for Keyes (67), A Cox for Glennon (70).
Referee: C Cunning (Antrim).