Allianz National Hurling League Division 1 Relegation Playoff
By Barry McEvoy
LAOIS’S spell at the top table of the National Hurling League has come to an end after an agonising defeat at the hands of Westmeath in Semple Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Willie Maher’s charges have had a tough time of it in Division 1B and that led into the relegation play off. Like their five previous games, there was little left behind in terms of heart and work rate, but mistakes at both ends of the field proved to be very costly.
Laois led by five points early on, but a goal from Joe Boyle sparked a Westmeath revival midway through the second half. A second Westmeath goal 10 minutes later from Niall O’Brien put the Lake County three ahead. Laois dug deep late in the half and they trailed by a single point at half time heading into the second 35 with the breeze at their backs.
It didn’t pan out as Laois would have hoped though as Westmeath hit two early points on the restart to go three in front. Despite levelling on a couple of occasions Laois could never get their noses back in front and the final knell came when Eoin Keyes found the net on 62 minutes.
It all looked rosy early on when Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher pointed a free straight from the throw in and then assisted Martin Phelan for a point moments later.
Stephen Bergin made it three for Laois with a wonder point from the sideline, but a brace for Killian Doyle and one from Joe Boyle brought it level.
Laois would go on to score the next five points unanswered and were playing the sort of hurling that they have threatened to on occasion. Picky followed a free with a pinged point from play before Martin Phelan assisted Stephen Bergin for his second then the two Keyes, Mossy and James, struck a point each. Laois led by five just 11 minutes in.
All that hard work was undone in a two-minute frenzy for Westmeath. Ciaran Doyle and Joe Boyle landed over a point each before Boyle fended off Padraig Delaney and latched onto a high ball before turning and striking it one handed past Enda Rowland to level the game.
Laois immediately went back in front with a free from the dependable Picky before James Keyes increased the lead with a beautifully taken score off his left and Aaron Dunphy made it three when his closing down resulted in a loose ball that he took and struck between the posts.
Killian Doyle pointed a pair of frees and Jack Galvin hit one from play but Jack Kelly kept Laois ahead by the minimum with a point from midfield.
Another free from Doyle levelled things once again and things were starting to look up for Westmeath. Noel Conaty played struck a free from his own 65 and it managed to miss every Laois back before landing in the path of Niall O’Brien who made no mistake in putting Westmeath three points ahead on 26 minutes.
Laois rallied well over the next five minutes as scores from Picky, Kelly and James Keyes brought the sides level.
Laois failed to take a couple of chances at the end of the half and they were punished when Ciaran Doyle scored his second point to put Westmeath in front at the break.
Despite trailing by a point Laois looked the better of the sides in the first half and the signs were positive for the second.
Westmeath dented those hopes with two early points from Killian Doyle frees, but Picky hit back with two in response.
Killian (2) and Ciaran Doyle combined for three scores in quick succession and they led by four but Laois soon battled back with scores from James Keyes and Ian Shanahan.
Killian Doyle struck another long range free before Mossy Keyes and Aaron Dunphy brought Laois to within a point with two excellent scores.
Westmeath upped the gears once more and went three ahead again with scores from Ciaran Doyle and Davy Glennon. Laois refused to give in and Ross King made a big impact when he came on, scoring two points in a matter of seconds.
This was a key point in the game as Laois missed several shots at the posts before Killian Doyle pointed from play.
Laois battled back from the missed opportunities with a pointed free for Picky and a great score under pressure for James Keyes that saw them level.
Laois continued to shoot themselves in the foot as a meaningless long ball wasn’t dealt with and Eoin Keyes picked up the loose ball before running in on goal and scything it into the bottom corner.
Robbie Greville and James Duggan traded scores before points from Eoin Keyes, Derek McNicholas and Darragh Clinton put the game beyond reach for Laois despite a late consolation goal for Rowland.
Westmeath: Killian Doyle 0-11 (0-8fs), Joe Boyle 1-2, Eoin Keyes 1-1, Ciaran Doyle 0-4, Niall O’Brien 1-0, Derek McNicholas 0-2, Davy Glennon, Darragh Clinton (f), Jack Galvin and Robbie Greville 0-1 each
Laois: Stephen Maher 0-8 (0-7fs), James Keyes 0-5, Enda Rowland 1-0 (f), Stephen Bergin, Aaron Dunphy, Jack Kelly, Tomas Keyes and Ross King 0-2 each, Martin Phelan, Ian Shanahan and James Duggan 0-1 each
WESTMEATH: Noel Conaty; Darragh Egerton, Conor Shaw, Johnny Bermingham; Aaron Craig, Tommy Doyle, Jack Galvin; Shane McGovern, Robbie Greville; Ciarán Doyle, Joseph Boyle, Kevin Regan; David Glennon, Killian Doyle, Niall O’Brien.
Subs: Eoin Keyes for Bermingham (24m), Peter Clarke for Regan (52m), Shane Clavin for C. Doyle (62m), Darragh Clinton for O’Brien (70m), Derek McNicholas for K. Doyle (70m)
LAOIS: Enda Rowland (St Lazarian’s Abbeyleix); Fiachra C-Fennell (Rosenallis), Padraig Delaney (Harps), Donnchadh Hartnett (Rosenallis); Ryan Mullaney (Castletown), Ian Shanahan (Ballinakill), Padraig Lawlor (Ballinakill); Paddy Purcell (Rathdowney/Errill), Jack Kelly (Rathdowney/Errill); Aaron Dunphy (Borris/Kilcotton), Stephen Maher (Clough/Ballacolla), Tomas Keyes (Camross); Martin Phelan (Castletown), James Keyes (Colt-Shanahoe), Stephen Bergin (Clough Ballacolla).
Subs: Ross King (Rathdowney/Errill) for Lawlor (39m), Willie Dunphy (Clough/Ballacolla) from Bergin (52m), PJ Scully (Borris/Kilcotton) for T. Keyes (60m), James Duggan (Harps) for M Phelan (68m)
Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin)