Allianz Hurling League Division 1B play-off - Laois 0-23 Westmeath 0-16: For 35 minutes, this midland derby was a finely-balanced contest, with plenty of scoring at either end and little or nothing between the sides.
Westmeath led by 0-12 to 0-11 at the interval, with half their tally coming from the stick of Niall O’Brien, and it would have been a brave pundit who would have called it at that point.
The narrative changed from then on however, succinctly summarised by Westmeath manager Michael Ryan.
“The game was played on Laois’s terms in the second half. We said at half-time that the first couple of minutes after the break was going to be huge and we missed a goal and a couple of points. Laois drove on from that and to they were the better team.”
Four players were singled out for praise by Laois manager Seamus Plunkett after the tie, and all four had a huge bearing on the game in the second half.
“Charlie (Dwyer)’s coming into a little bit of form, certainly,” he said, an understatement after the wing forward shot six wonderful scores from ply in the tie.
“I thought Paddy Purcell did well in his role,” when speaking about his sweeper who dropped deeper and negated the influence of O’Brien and Brendan Murtagh, though that was aided by the increased workrate and intensity of the Laois men around the middle third — a fact not lost on Plunkett.
“Colm (Stapleton) and John (Lennon) picked up a lot of ruck ball around the middle. If you look at our stats, we often just don’t get enough of that jungle ball, the boys fought hard for it.”
Westmeath added just two points in the second half and while they succeeded in completing their seven-match campaign without conceding a goal, they never looked like raising a much-needed green flag of their own and fell further and further in arrears, right up until John Keenan’s final blow of the whistle.
Scorers for Laois:
PJ Scully (0-10, 6 frees, 1 65), C Dwyer (0-6), W Dunphy (0-2), N Foyle, J Lennon, E Rowland (free), Z Keeenan, M Kavanagh (0-1 each)
Scorers for Westmeath:
N O’Brien (0-7), E Price and B Murtagh (frees) 0-3 each, C Boyle, L Varley and N Dowdall (0-1 each)
E Rowland; D Palmer, D Maher, C Healy; L Bergin, M Whelan, R Mullaney; C Stapleton, P Purcell; C Dwyer, N Foyle, W Dunphy; J Lennon, S Maher, PJ Scully.
Z Keenan for Maher (HT), M Kavanagh for Dunphy (57), J Phelan for Palmer (66), E Fennelly for Foyle (69), B Reddin for Lennon (70+1)
P Maloney; S Power, T Doyle, T Gallagher; A Craig, A Clarke, A McGrath; C Boyle, G Greville; A Devine, N O’Brien, L Varley; N Dowdall, B Murtagh, E Price.
K Duncan for Doyle (28 – blood), R Greville for Dowdall (HT), D McNicholas for Varley (48), C Doyle for Boyle (57), Duncan for Power (66)
John Keenan (Wicklow)
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