A last-second Chris Conway point dragged Laois back from the brink of surrendering their Leinster title to Westmeath today in a pulsating game that was level seven times and finished on a scoreline of 0-13 apiece. Both sides must meet again next Saturday at headquarters to find a winner.
Tyrellspass youngster Denis Glennon kicked five points from play, and a final one on 61 minutes, as Paidi O Se’s side looked destined for their first title on the county’s third ever final appearance but a flurry of wasteful wides and Conway’s injury time point means Laois’ dreams of a first two-in-a-row since 1937 are still alive.
Never at their best, Laois were most effective in the opening quarter-of-an-hour and managed to hit each of their six first half points from play. The reigning champions did go behind in the second minute to a right-wing Fergal Wilson free but a Pauric Clancy breakdown soon had them level with Brian ‘Beano’ McDonald picking up the pieces to point.
A Ross Munnelly catch and point and efforts from corner forward Kevin Fitzpatrick and skipper Chris Conway saw Laois motor to 0-04 to 0-01 in front by the twelfth minute. Neat interchanges from both sides made for a simple game but wasteful wides from Laois saw them point just twice more in the opening half. Fiery forward Glennon picked up the slack with Westmeath's second on 15 minutes and a sequence of dominance in territory and possession saw the Lake county side back level on 32 minutes.
The little matter of the introduction of High Court hero midfielder Rory O’Connell on 20 minutes for Gary Dolan made a seismic difference. Four consecutive scores from the boots of Glennon, when a goal seemed certain on 21 minutes, Wilson again and Dessie Dolan drew Westmeath back level at 0-05 apiece. Munnelly had scored Laois’ last point on 16 minutes and despite Dolan curling over a late free for the lead, McDonald levelled the game into the break with his second point on the run.
Mick O’Dwyer’s men may have hit six from open play in the first half, but they tallied six wides also. Substitute Mick Lawlor and Clancy hit wasteful wides, allowing Dolan to point the underdogs in front on 50 minutes – 0-9 to 0-08. Substitute Shane Cook notched Laois’ first free and a first score for Lawlor trigged a Westmeath scoring spree with six points in seven minutes.
Dolan kicked his second free on 49, half forward Paul Conway, getting increasing ball, laid off for substitute Joe Fallon to score brilliantly off his weaker right foot to level. Then Dolan put O Se’s men in front, McDonald levelled for the fifth time, Fallon raced through for a second, Glennon continued the clutch with his third but as the pace quickened, Laois wing back Darren Rooney hit a rangy effort for the point of the day.
The influential Glennon, in his first year on the senior panel, fisted over Dolan’s point attempt for a 0-12 to 0-10 buffer but frees from McDonald and Cook saw the match reach the hour mark still on an even keel. Glennon’s fifth score was the difference between the sides at the end of normal time, as Dolan, Brian Morley and Donal O’Donoghue wasted a number of chances.
Three minutes of injury time produced just one score, the all-important one from Conway.
Laois: B McDonald 0-04 (3f), R Munnelly, S Cook (2f), C Conway 0-02 each, K Fitzpatrick, M Lawlor, D Rooney 0-01 each
Westmeath: D Glennon 0-05, D Dolan 0-04 (3f), F Wilson (2f), J Fallon 0-02 each
Filed by Barry J Whyte