Laois 1-20 Westmeath 1-17
Laois dug deep to book a Leinster SHC quarter-final berth as Group winners, thanks to a hard-earned three-point win in this all-Midlands battle in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise.
Five points in arrears entering the final quarter, Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett’s side played out of their skins, registering 1-4 without reply, including a Cha Dwyer goal to ensure a June 7 date with Offaly in Tullamore.
Laois looked like they were writing their own exit from the competition at half-time, trailing by 0-10 to 0-6 at the break, and firing 11 first-half wides, including seven from the stick of Zane Keenan - who came into this game with a knee injury.
Westmeath were also wasteful and amassed nine wides in the opening half - the Lake County finishing also with 13 men, after Red cards for Shane Power and Robbie Greville, Power to a second yellow card.
For both sides coming into this contest a quarter-final spot was within their grasp, and in the end both advanced to the last seven.
Laois and Westmeath held their share of possession in the opening minutes, but struggled in front of the posts.
It wasn’t until just on seven minutes before a score was produced, after Keenan sent over a point from a superbly struck sideline cut.
Westmeath had registered three wides at this stage, with the hosts sending two efforts wide of the posts.
Greville equalised for Westmeath on nine minutes, and although Laois pulled 0-4 to 0-2 ahead after 16 minutes, following a third Keenan point, they failed to drive on.
Alan Devine cut the gap to the minimum in the 17th minute, but Westmeath struggled to equalise firing four wides in succession between the 18th and 22nd minutes.
Cormac Boyle eventually got the ball between the posts, before Derek McNicholas pushed the Lake County ahead for the first time, after an excellent score from play.
Ross King equalised for Laois, but Westmeath drove on before the break - indeed King was a major player for the O’Moore County in this game, but his forced exit with a knee injury in the second half threatened to make things hard for the O’Moore’s.
Devine, Boyle, Niall O’Brien and Greville all added to the Westmeath tally to ensure a four-point lead, although Laois were unlucky not to peg a goal back before the interval, when Keenan was denied after a well placed save by Westmeath keeper Shane McGovern.
On the restart Westmeath drove a further nail into Laois, when Brendan Murtagh found the net inside 30 seconds, but Seamus Plunkett’s charges responded well.
Three quick points, including two from Keenan and a Dwyer effort cancelled out the goal, but Laois struggled to move ahead.
A brace of McNicholas scores ensured a 1-12 to 0-9 scoreline after 45 minutes, but suddenly Laois got their act together.
A trio of unanswered points left a goal between the sides entering the final quarter, and although substitute Niall Dowdall replied for Westmeath, Laois were in a purple patch.
Dwyer’s 56th minute goal spurred on the home side, with Dwyer, Willie Hyland, King and Keenan adding points, as Laois forged 1-16 to 1-13 in front.
Scores from Greville and Joey Boyle cut the gap to the minimum., but crucially Laois stayed in front until the end, with Greville and Power both dismissed in injury time.
SCORERS - Laois: Z Keenan 0-10 (7f , 1 sideline), C Dwyer 1-3, R King 0-3, P Purcell, W Hyland, D Peacock, S Maher 0-1 each. Westmeath: B Murtagh 1-2 (0-2f), R Greville, D McNicholas, N O’Brien (2f) 0-3 each, C Boyle 0-2, J Boyle, N Dowdall 0-1 each.
LAOIS: E Rowland; J Delaney, C Healy, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, J Campion; Z Keenan, D Palmer; C Dwyer, P Purcell, W Hyland; B Conroy, T Fitzgerald, R King. Subs: S Maher for Conroy (44), P Whelan for Purcell (52), PJ Scully for Fitzgerald (58), D Peacock for King (63 inj).
WESTMEATH: 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 (h-t), J Clarke for McGrath (46), J Boyle for Devine (52), E Corrigan for Murtagh (59)
REFEREE: Alan Kelly (Galway).