Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Football Championship Round 2
By Denis J. Croke
LOVERS of the big ball game, albeit the English version, have experienced a week where games provided the most dramatic outcomes as probably ever witnessed. In the European Champions Cup semi-finals Liverpool scored four goals to see off Barcelona while Spurs hit three in the second half to get past Ajax.
A little closer to home, Laois minor football team treated their supports to a fair fair of drama also when they overcame Westmeath in O’Moore Park on Wednesday evening.
Trailing by seven points at half time and with little likelihood of overturning that deficit, Donnacha Phelan’s charges produced their own impression of Tottenham Hotspurs scoring three second half goals, Oisin Hooney, PJ Ward and Brian Whelan on target, to take the honours with just a single point to spare.
Westmeath were quick off the mark with Dan Leech landing two points inside the opening minute. The corner forward added a third quickly followed by Ben McGauran and in the blink of an eye the visitors were four ahead with only three minutes on the clock.
Laois were really struggled at this stage but eventually opened their account when Colin Dunne spilt the posts on Laois’s first attack. Any sense of satisfaction was short lived.
Ronan Hurley cancelled Dunne’s point with a 45 before Westmeath scored the game’s first goal. A misplaced pass from Laois keeper Michael O’Connell fell to Ben McGauran. He passed it on in to Devin Hill who had the simplest of tasks in popping the ball into an empty net.
McGauran added another point and Westmeath were leading by nine points after just 12 minutes.
Laois rallied somewhat in the second quarter, but not apparently enough to suggest they would be ahead at the final whistle.
Brian Whelan converted two frees and substitute Paul O’Flynn scored another from play.
Westmeath responded with points from McGauran and Hill to take a 1-8 to 0-4 lead into the break.
And thinks did not get any brighter for the hosts on the restart after McGauran and Luke Buckley were on target for Westmeath to put nine between the sides.
Laois were looking for a miracle if they were to stay in contention and that miracle came in the shape of PJ Ward.
The Portarlington wing forward won a Westmeath kick-out, made a determined run through the heart of the Westmeath rearguard before rattling the net. Rioghan Murphy then kicked a point to reduce the margin to five points with 20 minutes to play.
Michael O’Connell redeemed his earlier error when he made a point blank save to deny Westmeath what looked a certain goal which had it gone in would surely have ended Laois’s challenge.
Instead Laois went straight back down the field where Rioghan Murphy found Oisin Hooney with a nice pass. The St Joseph’s lad raised the green flag with an almost unbelievable effort from all of 20 metres out. Now the gap was just two points entering the final quarter.
Ben McGauran eased the pressure on Westmeath with a free but Dunne cancelled that out and it was all to play for with ten minutes remaining.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more dramatic, Laois were awarded a penalty after Eddie Critchley was fouled. When the same player was fouled in Laois’s opening game against Carlow, Brian Whelan displayed nerves of steel to convert a late, late free that earned Laois a share of the spoils.
It was no surprise then that Whelan took on the responsibility and sent the Westmeath keeper the wrong way to give Laois the narrowest of leads, the first time the O’Moores were in front in the game.
Incredibly neither team would score again despite plenty of goalmouth action at both ends. When the final whistle blew Laois could but stand in awe and wonder how they had pulled off this victory.
LAOIS: Michael O’Connell (Portlaoise); Orrie Doran (Killeshin), Sean Greene (Emo), Jamie Kelly (St Joseph’s); Simon Fingleton (Park/Ratheniska); Eddie Critchley (Portlaoise), Mark Kehoe (Spink); Kevin Swayne (Portlaoise), Ben Brennan (Portlaoise); PJ Ward (1-0 Portarlington), Rioghan Murphy (0-1 Portarlington), Oisin Hooney (1-0 St Joseph’s); Colin Dunne (0-2, 0-1f Arles Killeen), Conor Goode (Stradbally), Brian Whelan (1-2, 1-0 pen, 0-2fs Ballyroan Abbey).
Subs: Paul O’Flynn (0-1 Courtwood) for Swayne (18m, inj), Shaun Fitzpatrick (Ballyroan Abbey) for Kehoe (h/t), Darragh Carolan (Stradbally) for Ward (51m), Nathan Little (Courtwood) for Brennan (54m), Paddy Hosey (Emo) for Hooney (60m)
WESTMEATH: Sean Hynes; Daire Smyth, Dylan Fagan, Adam Treanor; Darragh Seery, Eamon Martin, Josh Gahan; Conor Gibney, Fionn O’Hara; Ronan Hanley (0-1 ’45), Luke Buckley (0-1), Darren Mnguni; Ben McGauran (0-5, 0-3fs), Devin Hill (1-1), Dan Leech (0-3).
Referee: Fintan Pierce (Offaly)