The O’Moore men trailed by seven points early in the second half after Brendan Murtagh’s goal, but they didn’t panic and slowly reeled Westmeath in. The victory here also means they top the qualifying group on the head-to-head ruling, and so they will now play Offaly, while Westmeath face Wexford, with both games on June 7.
Speaking after the game, manager Cheddar Plunkett said: “We used the word ‘relentless’ before the match, that we were just going to stay in the game and keep fighting to the very last minute, and what I asked of the players I got, and I’m delighted we got the win.”
The first half had been blighted by some terrible shooting by both sides, as Laois hit 10 wides in the opening 35 minutes, while Westmeath racked up nine.
Zane Keenan had opened the scoring with a sideline cut, but Robbie Greville hit back for Westmeath and the teams remained close for much of the half. They were tied at 0-5 apiece when Westmeath hit a purple patch to score four points in six minutes.
Zane Keenan hit back for Laois, but Brendan Murtagh’s free left Westmeath in control at the break with a 0-10 to 0-6 lead.
A mere 30 seconds into the second half, Murtagh had the ball in the Laois net, and Westmeath looked destined for a third win in three games.
Laois kept plugging away though, and points from Keenan and Ross King got them within striking distance before Dwyer’s goal turned the game on its head, allowing Laois to run out three-point winners.
While Plunkett was relieved to top the group, he urged the GAA to do more to promote hurling in the four counties which had to qualify for the Leinster SHC.
He said: “It needs to be looked at in much more depth, there is obviously a better way, it’s just not a competition that needs to be put in here. In my view it is here to put teams down (to the Christy Ring), and if that’s the motivation behind this, you’re not going to develop hurling in these counties.”
Zane Keenan 0-10 (0-7f, 0-1 sideline), Cha Dwyer 1-4, Ross King 0-3, D Peacock, W Hyland, P Purcell 0-1 each.
Brendan McGrath 1-2 (0-2f), Niall O’Brien (2f), Derek McNicholas, Robbie Greville 0-3 each, Cormac Boyle, Alan Devine 0-2 each, Niall Dowdall, Joey Boyle 0-1 each.
E Rowland; JA Delaney, C Healy, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, J Campion; D Palmer, P Purcell; W Hyland, Z Keenan, C Dwyer; R King, T Fitzgerald, B Conroy. Subs: S Maher for Conroy (44), P Whelan for Purcell (52), PJ Scully for Fitzgerald (59), D Peacock for King (64, inj)
S McGovern; S Power, T Doyle, G Greville; A Craig, A Clarke, A McGrath; C Boyle, E Price; N O’Brien, D McNicholas, R Greville; A Devine, B Murtagh, D Clinton. Subs: N Dowdall for Clinton (ht), J Clarke for McGrath (46), J Boyle for Devine (52), E Corrigan for Murtagh (60, inj) Referee: A Kelly (Galway)
Alan Kelly (Galway).