By Denis J. Croke
THE purists will look at Sunday’s championship game between Laois and Westmeath and raise their eyes to heaven in abhorrence. They will disapprove of the lack of kick passes and the over use of the hand pass, not to mention Laois’s keep ball tactics in the second half.
In fairness they might have a point as the game lacked that real championship atmosphere, lacked bite and at times bordered on the tedious.
But that will not matter a whit to Laois manager John Sugrue and his players. They travelled to O’Connor Park to win a place in the provincial semi-final and they did just that.
They came with a job to do and they did it. The defence was outstanding even after losing Mark Timmons, so often the defensive anchor man, as early as the eighth minute.
Laois generally controlled midfield with John O’Loughlin winning some great high ball and Kieran Lillis worked his socks off.
Up front Evan O’Carroll was on fire scoring eight of Laois’s 12 points, a few of them out of the top drawer. When the Crettyard man is in this form there is no holding him.
And on Sunday he wasted no time in making his mark on this game, converting a free after just a minute. Paul Kingston made two less than two minutes later, and that just after he was denied a goal chance when Westmeath corner-back Boidu Sayeh got a crucial foot in just as Kingston was about to pull the trigger on a loose ball.
With the aid of a stiff breeze Laois were controlling affairs getting ball in quickly to their two-man full forward line of Kingston and O’Carroll, and it was paying dividends.
Another silly foul by a Westmeath defender on O’Carroll afforded him the chance to get his second point.
Timmons made his exit in the eighth and soon after Westmeath should really have opened their account but Ger Egan dropped his free from less than 30 metres short.
Paul Kingston scored his second in the 12th minute. After winning possession out on the left sideline he cut back in past a couple of defenders and stroked the ball over the bar.
On the 20 minute mark Carroll made it five to Laois after John O’Loughlin had been fouled.
Westmeath eventually got ff the mark in the 23rd minute with a Ger Egan free, but Laois were still commanding affairs despite Egan converting another free six minutes later.
In between O’Carroll held off a strong challenge to split the posts from play and then found the target from out wide on the left.
During this period Westmeath might well have scored a goal but for a crucial interception from Patrick O’Sullivan.
With Conor Boyle getting the last point of the half Laois went into the break with a six point lead, 0-8 o 0-2. This might have looked a fairly healthy advantage but with Westmeath having wind assistance on the restart it was going to be tough on Laois, and they will not have forgotten how Westmeath played in the second half of the league final.
And once again it was the men in maroon who took the initiative on the restart. John Heslin and Evan O’Carroll swapped early points before a brace of Ger Egan frees closed the gap to just four points with 42 minutes on the clock.
John Heslin should really have scored a goal when he took a good pass on the turn but shot tamely straight at Graham Brody.
The same player was injured a short time after and as he lay on the ground the referee allowed play to continue while Westmeath had the ball. Laois turned over possession and had a clear breakaway with numerical advantage and the referee decided then to blow up play to allow Heslin get treatment.
O’Carroll settled Laois nerves midway through the half with yet another free but Laois had another narrow escape. This time John Heslin won possession from a long delivery, fed Denis Carroon who was denied as Gareth Dillon threw himself in front of the shat and deflected it out for a 45 which Egan kicked wide.
But another two points from the boot of Egan narrowed the gap to three points with 15 minutes left to play.
Once again it was O’Carroll who eased the pressure on Laois only to see his point cancelled out by Ronan O’Toole.
Laois were looking vulnerable now. They had played around keeping the ball to themselves but with Westmeath pushing forward mistakes were being made. And when Westmeath closed the gap to the minimum with points from Egan and Callum McCormack Laois retracted into their shell.
Laois substitute Marty Scully looked to have got the point Laois so badly needed a minute into time added on. The Ballyroan Abbey player went on a great run down the right wing, cut in along the end line but his attempt at a fisted point ended up in the back of the net instead.
Three minutes later another substitute, Eoin Lowry made no mistake when he swapped passes with O’Carroll and fisted over.
Westmeath had time to mount one last attack but it petered out and the referee blew the full time whistle and the Laois players celebrated ecstatically.
Next up will be a semi-final meeting with Meath in O’Moore Park in two weeks time.
LAOIS: Graham Brody; Denis Booth, Mark Timmons, Gareth Dillon; Paddy O’Sullivan; John O’Loughlin, Kieran Lillis; Daniel O’Reilly, Conor Boyle, Damien O’Connor; Paul Kingston (0-2), Colm Murphy, Evan O’Carroll (0-8, 0-5fs).
Subs: Robbie Piggott for Timmons (8m, inj), Marty Scully for Murphy (h/t), Donie Kingston for Boyle (59m), Brendan Quigley for O’Connor (66m), Eoin Lowry (0-1) for O’Reilly (66m), Sean Byrne for Begley (70m, inj)
WESTMEATH: Eoin Carberry; Kevin Maguire, Ronan Wallace, Boidu Sayeh; Killian Daly, Noel Mulligan, James Dolan; Sam Duncan, Denis Corroon; David Lynch, John Heslin (0-1), Frank Boyle; Ronan O’Toole (0-1), Kieran Martin, Ger Egan (0-7, 0-6fs).
Subs: Callum McCormack (0-1) for Duncan (32m), Luke Loughlin for Boyle (h/t), Darren Giles for Corroon (60m)
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)