Walsh Cup Rd 3
By Pat Delaney
BORRIS-in-Ossory was the venue on Sunday for the meeting of these modern day Midland rivals. After Laois started poorly they grew into the game but faded out in the closing ten minutes.
Strangers passing through the village would have been amazed at the amount vehicles either side of the venue and despite the big attendance the local club did an excellent job on keeping the traffic flowing before and after, due mainly to the drafting in local garda, Willie Whelan.
Conditions in the new ground were perfect and the club can be proud of the new sod. Westmeath adapted very well and started in blistering pace shooting five unanswered points as the inexperienced home team struggled all around the park.
It was perhaps fitting that the first Laois score in the new pitch would come from local boy Aaron Dunphy now studying to be a teacher. Aaron picked up the ball on the right wing and fired between the uprights at the pavilion end and it lifted Laois.
Next up was another Laois attack and Eoin Gaughan doubled the home account. The Camross man made it three after Laois forced a 65 after 24 minutes.
Westmeath responded with a Darragh Clinton point but after Willie Dunphy saw a line ball skim the post it was one of last year’s contingent, Ryan Mullaney who converted a free from almost 70 metres.
Suddenly Laois were finding their men all over the field. Eoin Gaughan converted a free and a superb strike by Willie Dunphy reduced the deficit to just one with five minutes of the half remaining.
The closing minutes saw Westmeath recover. They introduced Joe Boyle in attack while Darragh Clinton fired over a point from play. After Laois keeper Paul Simms denied the visitors twice he was finally beaten when Boyle fired low into the bottom left hand corner.
Laois then won a line ball which Willie Dunphy squeezed magnificently between the uprights leaving the visitors in front 1-8 to 0-7 at the half way mark.
Laois management would have been pleased with their first half performance and with wind assistance to follow there was an air of confidence around the ground. Eric Killeen did not return because on an injury that looked pretty bad and Portlaoise man Ciaran McEvoy slotted in well.
However, Laois began poorly conceding two early frees which were easily converted by Derek McNicholas while Laois hit two bad wides. Eoin Gaughan converted a free in the 43rd minute but Laois were not hurling with the same fluency.
Derek McNicholas kept his side in front mainly from placed balls and despite making little inroads into the Westmeath half Laois were still very much in contention.
After Aaron Dunphy added their second point of the half Laois were awarded a close in free for a chop down. Eoin Gaughan stood over the ball let fly and became the first Laois man to score a goal at the new venue.
The gloss was taken off the goal when the visitors went down the field and an opportunist Darragh Clinton flicked the ball to the Laois net. After the same player pointed Eoin Gaughan and Aaron Gaughan added a point apiece leaving the board reading 2-12 to 1-11 with ten minutes remaining.
The big Laois attendance anticipated a shock but that was as good as it got. In fairness management were already giving newcomers a run out and the only other home score was a converted free from Eoin Gaughan.
Further points by McNicholas ensured the visitors went home with the points that will be enough to see them reach the semi-final. For Laois a good work out with a very under-strength squad who now face another team seeking revenge, Dublin on Thursday evening at Parnell Park.
For one debutant it was a special occasion. James Keyes, who was outstanding in the under-20 hurling championship last year with Raheen Parish Gaels, became the first Colt hurler in many years to wear the Laois senior jersey wearing number 15. However, after the game he learned that Colt no longer exists so it must be some bit of history becoming the first and last, but I’m sure we will still a lot more of this young talent.
WESTMEATH: Aaron McHugh; Aonghus Clarke, Tommy Doyle, Adam Ennis; Shane Clavin, Aaron Craig, John Birmingham; Alan Cox, Derek McNicholas (0-10; 0-7fs); Ciaran Doyle (0-1), Niall Mitchell (0-1), Robbie Greville; Liam Varley, Darragh Clinton (1-2; 0-1f), Eoin Price (0-2).
Subs: Joe Boyle (1-0) for L Varley 28m, Darragh O’Reilly (0-1) for N Mitchell H/T. Niall Mitchell for D Clinton 43m, Shane McGovern for E Price 50m,
LAOIS: Paul Simms; Alan Connolly, Frank Flanagan, Dan Comerford; Jack Kelly, Ryan Mullaney (0-1f), Eric Killeen; Fergal C Fennell, Ciaran Comerford; Willie Dunphy (0-2; 0-1 sl), Eoin Gaughan (1-6; 0-3fs, 0-1 ‘65), Aaron Dunphy (0-3); Aaron Bergin, Pat Keating, James Keyes.
Subs: Ciaran McEvoy for E Killeen (h/t, inj), James Ryan for W Dunphy (40m), Mark Hennessey for Bergin (54m), Conor Cosgrove for Kelly (55m), Donnacha Hartnett for Mullaney (60m), Cormac Rigney for A Dunphy (69m), Joe Phelan for Keyes (69m)
Referee Justin Heffernan (Wexford)