Joe McDonagh Cup Final
By Denis J. Croke
THE final whistle in Croke Park marked the end of years of heartbreak for Laois hurling. At long, long last a national title was on its way back to the county.
Some thought this day would never come and some were concerned that the selection of Mark Kavanagh, who was returning for a injury, might have been a bit of a gamble. But they need not have worried because the young Rathdowney/Errill player gave an exemplary display accounting for 12 points.
After a closely contested opening half during which never more than a few points separated the sides Laois opened up in the second period. The standard of the hurling was top class, their first touch spot on and while they were a bit wayward at times they were never under any real threat.
In fact it is one of the few timers where Laois supporters could sit back and aenjoy the game in the latter stages as in truth from early in the second half Laois were never going to be caught.
The scoring got underway when Westmeath’s Killian Doyle was to score the first of his 1-11 tally with a second minute point. The game was to prgress and tuyrn into something of a duel between the two number 11s.
Ninty seconds later Laois got the best possibe start when the Westemtah defence failed to clear a long delivery, three defenders fumbled with the sliotar before Ross King stole the sliotar from under the nose f GGG and crashed it to the back of the net with three and a half minutes on the clock.
Shane Clavin pulled back a point for Westmeath but then Kavanagh got his roll going shooting Laois’s next four points, one more impressive than the other. During this period the same could be said of Doyle who tagged on another four points which meant Laois were leading by the minimum with 16 minutes on the clock.
John Lennon and Aonghus Clarke swapped points while Aaron Dunphy added another point before he struck for Laois’s second goal.
This time the sliotar was worked deep out of defence with a string of precision passes ending up with Dunphy 30 metres or so from goal. He took on the defence, sliced through the cover and sent a cracker of a shot into the top left corner.
But before the Laois cheers had died down Westmeath swept down field where Doyle cut through the heart of the Laois defence and gave Enda Rowland no chance. And when he added a point in the 23rd minute the gap was back to a single point.
Aaron Dunphy again eased Laois nerves with a point but over the next six or seven minutes both sides became very wasteful.
That all changed on the half hour mark when a pair of Cha Dwyer points sandwiched another from Kavanagh and the gap was four.
Again Westmeath reacted with a brace from Doyle and Cormac Boyle and with Kavanagh converting a free, the first Laois score not from play, the O’Moores went into the break leading 2-11 to 1-10.
That advantage was halved within minutes of the restart thanks to Allan Devine and another Doyle free. However the gap was quickly restored, Kavanagh with a 65 and a free.
But yet again Westmeath came back at Laois and with Derek McNicholas and Kavanagh finding the target the gap was back to two points once again with 46 minutes on the clock.
But that all changed dramatically 30 seconds later. From Enda Rowland’s puck out the sliotar fell to Paddy Purcell. He gathered, turned and tore at the Westmeath defence, passed onto Stephen Bergin and he buried it in the net.
This was the score that tore the heart out of Westmeath. They never gave up the chase but you could see their heart was not now really in it.
Over the next 11 minute Laois tagged on three points through Mark Kavanagh and while Westmeath would score four there was going to be no way back into this contest.
Laois finished with a flurry with points from Eanna Lyons (2), Aaron Dunphy (2), John Lennon, Neil Foyle (2), Paddy Purcell and Kavanagh. Westmeath managed to score three in the same period but by that stage the cup was well on its way down the N7 and celebration time in Portlaoise.
SCORERS – LAOIS: Mark Kavanagh 0-12 (0-5 frees, 0-2 ’65s), Aaron Dunphy 1-4, Ross King 1-0, Stephen Bergin 1-0, Eanna Lyons 0-3, Cha Dwyer 0-2, John Lennon 0-2, Neil Foyle 0-2, Paddy Purcell 0-1
WESTMEATH: Killian Doyle 1-11 (0-6fs, 0-1 sideline), Aonghus Clarke 0-2, Ciaran Doyle 0-2, Cormac Boyle 0-1, Shane Clavin 0-1, Allan Devine 0-1, Derek McNicholas 0-1, Joey Boyle 0-1, Eoin Price 0-1
LAOIS: Enda Rowland (St Lazerian’s Abbeyleix); Lee Cleere (Clough/Ballacolla), Matthew Whelan (Borris/Kilcotton), Donnacha Hartnett (Mountmellick); Jack Kelly (Rathdowney/Errill) Ryan Mullaney (Castletown), Padraig Delaney (The Harps); John Lennon (Rosenallis), Paddy Purcell (Rathdowney/Errill); Aaron Dunphy (Borris/Kilcotton), Mark Kavanagh (Rathdowney/Errill), Stephen Maher (Clough/Ballacolla); Willie Dunphy (Clough/Ballacolla), Charles Dwyer (Ballinakill), Ross King (Rathdowney/Errill).
Subs: Stephen Bergin (Clough/Ballacolla) for Kavanagh (43m temporary), Stephen Bergin for King (48m), Eanna Lyons (Ballyfin) for Maher (55m), Neil Foyle (Borris/Kilcotton) for Dwyer (58m), Joe Phelan (Camross) for Kelly (71m)
WESTMEATH: Conor Lynch; Daragh Egerton, Tommy Doyle, Gary Greville; Liam Varley, Aonghus Clarke, Paul Greville; Shane Clavin, John Gilligan; Joey Boyle, Killian Doyle, Cormac Boyle; Alan Devine, Darragh Clinton, Robbie Greville.
Subs: Eoin Price for Gilligan (32m), Derek McNicholas for Clinton (h/t), Ciaran Doyle for C Boyle (53m), Darragh O’Reilly for Devine (66m)
Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim)