Kelly’s first Championship game in charge of his adopted county was a disaster as they went down amid a hail of Paul Kingston goals in Tullamore on Saturday. The Laois attacker scored a second-half hat-trick and sub Evan O’Carroll added 1-1 as Laois turned the screw after a slow start.
The outcome belied the fact that Laois competed in Division 4 of the league, albeit winning it, compared to Westmeath’s Division 3 status.
The reality for Westmeath is that they’re struggling to stem a losing streak and haemorrhaging key players at a crucial stage of the season.
Vice-captain James Dolan quit on the eve of the Championship and captain John Heslin couldn’t start at Bord na Mona O’Connor Park due to hip trouble.
Injuries haven’t helped either and they picked up two more on Saturday, to Darragh Daly and John Egan.
But Kelly seemed most frustrated with the situation surrounding April and said he got it wrong by releasing players to their clubs, as the GAA directed.
“I think the April thing hasn’t worked and I seem to be one of the few managers who gave lads back to their clubs,” said Kelly. “I deem myself responsible for that. I’m not blaming anybody else.”
Kelly guided his native Louth to back-to-back promotions but admitted little is going right in his first Championship campaign with Westmeath.
They also lost John Connellan to a black card late in the first-half having started strongly.
“With the luck we’re having at the moment, it’ll be Louth we get in the draw,” said Kelly, referencing this morning’s draw for Round 1 of the qualifiers which they’ll be in.
“Look, they are a great bunch of lads to deal with and we’ll get back at it late in the week and push hard to try and right some of the wrongs in the qualifiers.”
It’s the second game running Westmeath have conceded four goals if you include the refixtured O’Byrne Cup final that Meath won.
And they’re on a four-game losing streak stretching back to their last win in the league on March 11.
But it’s all positive for Laois who’ll fancy their chances at Croke Park on June 10. They bounced back from their slow start to hit six points without reply between the 28th minute and half-time, taking full control of the game.
And Kingston’s 47th, 49th and 60th minute net blasts secured a surprisingly comfortably win.
Teenager Finbarr Crowley excelled in a defence that was unfortunate to leak a scrappy goal to Mark McCallon shortly before Kingston slammed the door shut with his third goal.
Evan O’Carroll added further industry to the effort when he came on and netted a well worked goal, putting his name in the mix to start at Croke Park.
“It was pleasing,” said Laois boss John Sugrue. “But then I felt Westmeath were quite poor at the back. They were coming out and gambling hard in the second-half with regards to attacking and trying to claw in the lead that we had. So that left gaping holes at the back.
“Paul took his scores very well. Lots of fellas worked very hard to create those situations and Paul took up good positions, and took the chances.”
Sugrue has a tough task to pick a team for the semi-finals. Niall Donoher was terrific when he came on, scoring two points and playing in Kingston for his second goal.
O’Carroll’s 1-1 reflected his efforts and there was a late cameo from Gary Walsh, their top scorer in the league, who added a point.
Hat-trick hero Kingston said it’s all down to a collective effort as they set their sights on a rare three in a row of Championship wins.
“There’s a serious work ethic there but that’s going on since early, well before Christmas, it’s not just coming now,” Kingston told Midlands 103. “It was no surprise to us, it might have been a surprise to everyone else but we know exactly what we’re doing.”
P. Kingston (3-2); E. O’Carroll (1-1); R. Munnelly (0-3, 3 frees); N. Donoher (0-2); A. Farrell, D. Kingston (1 free), C. Begley, T. Collins and G. Walsh (0-1 each).
L. Loughlin (0-4, 2 frees); M. McCallon (1-0); G. Egan (0-3, 1 free); F. Coyne (0-2); J. Connellan (0-1, 1 free) K. Martin and R. O’Toole (0-1 each).
G. Brody; G. Dillon, M. Timmons, S. Attride (C); T. Collins, C. Begley, F. Crowley; J. O’Loughlin, K. Lillis; A. Farrell, P. Kingston, D. O’Connor; B. Carroll, D. Kingston, R. Munnelly.
N. Donoher for Farrell (22); D. Strong for O’Connor (59) and E. O’Carroll for Carroll (59); D. Conway for Munnelly (63); S. Nerney for Timmons (65, blood); G. Walsh for D. Kingston (67); D. Booth for Attride (75).
S. Gallagher; J. Gonoud, S. Duncan, M. McCallon; J. Egan, A. Stone, N. Mulligan; D. Corroon, D. Daly; K. Martin, C. McCormack, G. Egan; L. Loughlin, R. O’Toole, J. Connellan.
F. Coyne for Connellan (32, black card); R. Wallace for Daly (42); A. McGivney for J. Egan (49); J. Heslin (C) for O’Toole (55); B. Sayeh for Mulligan (71) and D. Whelan for McCallon (71).
P. Hughes (Armagh).
Westmeath were all over Laois initially and should have led by more than three points after 20 minutes. But Laois outscored them by 4-11 to 1-7 from there on, completely dominating the game.
The quality of Paul Kingston’s goal kicking was incredible. His first and third were both buried with accuracy in the corners and came at times when a point seemed like a good option.
It was Laois’ first time since 2014 to win back to back games in the Championship. Wexford must be kicking themselves for letting Laois off the hook in their first-round encounter that went to extra-time.
John Heslin cut a forlorn figure standing with the rest of the Westmeath subs. The captain was badly needed in attack but was only good for 20 minutes late on. He went close with a goal chance.
Aside from Heslin, Colin Kelly said Westmeath midfielder Darragh Daly and John Egan also picked up fresh injuries.
They’ll be needed to be fit for the qualifiers on June 9/10.
John Sugrue rotated the Kingston brothers nicely and it paid off in the second-half with Paul’s three goals. Their defence was solid and they wove some beautiful attacking moves. Croke Park should suit them.
Gareth Dillon, Finbarr Crowley, Colm Begley and Kieran Lillis impressed but Paul Kingston was the clear standout performer.
Two of the Laois forward’s three second-half goals were peaches and the blitzkrieg buried Westmeath.
Pádraig Hughes kept his cards close to his chest pocket and only dished out four. One was a black for John Connellan who deserved it for a drag back.
Laois play Carlow at Croke Park on June 10 in the Leinster semi-final. Westmeath will be in this morning’s Round 1 qualifier draw.