Laois needed a big last quarter surge to overcome the challenge of a dogged Westmeath team and their own poor shooting in Cusack Park in Mullingar, before eventually coming through on a 1-15 to 1-09 scoreline in their first Leinster Championship round robin tie.
Seventeen Laois wides over the course of the seventy minutes kept the underdogs in touch while a fortunate Derek McNicholas goal just before half time gave them a 1-05 to 0-05 interval lead.
After four points were shared in the third quarter Laois drew level through a Stephen Maher goal, and with Willie Hyland in fine form, Laois pulled clear from there.
Just three scores were taken in the opening twenty two minutes of this tie, two of which were from frees, which illustrated the scrappiness of this midlands derby.
Both sides struggled badly to find their range throughout with 33 wides in total, seventeen for the home side. The vast majority of these came in the closing stages when they went looking for goals, as Derek McNicholas pulled two half chances wide of the target.
A greasy surface and a very slight cross breeze didn’t help matters but that still didn’t excuse the dire scoring rate over the first third before the game finally settled down with a string of scores in the lead up to half time.
Robbie Greville and Ross King traded points in the space of a minute to finally give the crowd something to shout about and when Ciarán Curley split the posts from long range, the Westmeath supporters finally began to sense that there was a real possibility of an upset here at the Mullingar venue.
Laois manager Seamus Plunkett looked to add some physicality to his half forward line when he sent Charlie Dwyer in as a replacement in the 25th minute and the switch bore fruit immediately as the Ballinakill player struck a wonderful point off his left to restore his team’s lead, however Westmeath immediately replied in kind with an equally impressive score through Niall O’Brien.
Willie Hyland and Noel Conaty continued the score for score trend before Westmeath got their big break in first half injury time with the game’s first goal.
Aaron Craig made a spectacular catch and powerful drive to earn a free at midfield which was drilled into the small square by Derek McNicholas and as a plethora of hands and hurls went up to cut out the delivery, the ball broke off a Laois defender and skewed across the line to give the Lake County a 1-05 to 0-05 interval lead.
Both sides were dealt huge injury blows around half time as Brian Stapleton and Aaron Craig were forced off but these withdrawals failed to turn the tide of defensive supremacy as the trend of errant shooting continued into the second half.
Stephen Maher opened the scoring within thirty seconds from a close range free but Westmeath’s work rate continued to cause them huge problems and that score was cancelled out five minutes later by McNicholas, who made a wonderful block in the full forward line and immediately snapped the ball over the bar.
Again Seamus Plunkett called on his bench and again he produced an ace from the pack as Joe Campion came on and struck a gorgeous left hand point from sixty metres out, while the replacement’s energy in the middle third really changed the tone of this game.
Aonghus Clarke made it 1-07 to 0-07 in the 51st minute but Laois came down the field and struck a close range goal from Stephen Maher to level up the tie and from then on the O’Moore County were dominant.
Willie Hyland came into his own with three excellent scores from the half forward line, bringing his tally to 0-5 for the afternoon, while Tommy Fitzgerald and Neil Foyle also showed the type of accuracy that had been sorely lacking up to then when they split the uprights from the right wing.
Westmeath had their chances late on, most notably when McNicholas failed to get sufficient power behind a 20m free, and again when the same player went for a first time pull but mishit the ball after good approach play from Ciarán Curley and Eoin Price, but Laois always looked comfortable defending their lead and they now go on to meet Carlow in the next round of games.
Westmeath: P Collins; K Duncan, T Doyle, L Varley; G Greville, A Craig, P Gilsenan; E Price, C Curley (0-01); R Greville (0-03), A Devine, D Gavin (0-01); N Conaty (0-01), D McNicholas (1-01, 1-00 free), N O’Brien (0-01).
Subs: A Clarke (0-01) for Craig (38).
Laois: E Reilly; D Maher, B Campion, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan (0-01 free) , C Dunne; D Palmer, P Whelan; S Maher (1-04, 0-03 frees), J Purcell, W Hyland (0-05); N Foyle (0-01), T Fitzgerald (0-01), R King (0-01).
Subs: C Dwyer (0-01) for Purcell (25), JA Delaney for Stapleton (HT), J Campion (0-01) for Dunne (45), J Fitzpatrick for Palmer (48 – temporary), B Reddin for King (50), J Brophy for Reddin (66)
Referee: Christy Browne (Galway)