Westmeath have won the Leinster Championship for the first time in their history in a thrilling win over incumbent champions Laois on a scoreline of 0-12 to 0-10 in Croke Park this evening.
Westmeath got off to a terrible start. Dessie Dolan spurned a gilt-edged opportunity to open the scoring before Tom Kelly registered for Laois having received from Ross Munnelly. Munnelly then stepped up to take his own score to put Laois two ahead with five minutes gone.
Like the first match, Laois were very much in charge and Westmeath were finding it difficult to get a handle on the game.
It would be just over a quarter of an hour before any other score was registered, but during that period Westmeath managed to get a foothold in the game. Although they clocked up four horrible wides from kickable positions, they were beginning to come to terms with Laois on the pitch, if not on the scoreboard.
Donal Brennan, in the team in place of stricken captain Chris Conway, popped up to make it three points for Laois. With the scoreline not reflecting the chances or the amount of possession Westmeath had, Alan Mangan took Westmeath's first score.
Padraig Clancy gave Laois a two-point lead again, but suddenly it was looking far from solid and Mangan stepped up again to reduce the gap to the minimum before Brian 'Beano' McDonald found Kevin Fitzpatrick to re-establish the now tenuous lead.
Dessie Dolan then scored his first of the game as he got on the end of a lovely move from midfield to cross the bar. He picked up a second point a minute later thanks to a bit of good luck. He was pushed to the ground as he tried to make a run and, having picked himself up, found himself standing in front of a ball-carrying Alan Mangan who unloaded for Dolan to level the game at five points apiece.
Then, two minutes into injury time, a fantastic Denis Glennon point followed by a Michael Ennis score gave a by-now swashbuckling Westmeath team a morale boosting lead as they went into the dressing rooms.
Traditionally it is believed that the team that dominates the first 10 minutes of the second half will be in pole position at the end of the game and Westmeath opened the second period in explosive fashion.
A foul on Dolan resulted in a free that was pointed by Fergal Wilson. Then a high challenge by Darren Rooney on a Westmeath attacker was well struck over the bar by Dolan.
Brian Morley's fisted point earned him an off-the-ball shoulder cum push from Fergal Byron, a sign of Laois' frustration.
An enormous Dolan kick seemed to be going over the bar via the Mir space-station before dropping short and ricocheting off the crossbar into the waiting hands of Mangan who quite happily fisted over.
Laois were shell-shocked and when Colm Parkinson got down the field to score a point that was greeted with rather muted applause from his side's fans.
Mangan's point on fifty minutes was very important as it extended Westmeath's lead as Laois looked like they were coming out of their torpor. As if to underline this, it was instantly cancelled out by a super individual point by Kevin Fitzpatrick to leave the score at 0-12 to 0-07 in favour of Ó Sé's men.
Beano McDonald, suffering from a leg injury which was keeping him quiet for most of the match, popped up for a point for Laois as the O'Moore county crept back into the game after Westmeath's blistering opening.
On sixty minutes a free-in to Laois was converted by Ross Munnelly before Dessie Dolan and Joe Higgins were injured in a collision as both players went for the ball, unaware that the other was coming in. Higgins came off the worst, and had to be carried off as the motorised stretcher was nowhere to be found.
The game was stopped for minutes while Higgins was tended to, but it was robbed of none of its momentum and once it kicked off again, it went straight back onto the knife edge with both sides going in hard on their opponents.
Westmeath were finding it hard to score the last point or two to put the game away and were nearly made to regret it as, with the scores standing at 0-12 to 0-09, Kevin Fitzpatrick bore down on goal only to drive his shot agonisingly wide, leaving both sets of fans on their feet.
Then Laois won a free-kick directly in front of goal. When it would have been better to drive the ball for goal, regardless of the entire Westmeath team on the goal-line, Ross Munnelly tapped it over the bar with only two minutes of the six minutes of injury time left to play.
It would be the last significant action of the game, except for a long attempt at goal from Westmeath 'keeper Gary Connaughton that drifted slightly wide, and Westmeath won their first provincial championship in their history.
Filed by Barry J Whyte