Laois 0-23 Westmeath 0-16
Laois have held on to their place in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League after they secured a seven-point win over Westmeath in the promotion/relegation play-off at O’Connor Park in Tullamore.
Six points from the brilliant Cha Dwyer proved crucial in the end as a spirited Westmeath challenge fell away in the final quarter.
Westmeath’s Niall O’Brien fired seven points for his side, but PJ Scully’s ten-point haul and Dwyer’s brilliance ensured there will be no relegation from Division 1B this season.
It’s five years since Westmeath last played second tier hurling when they were relegated from the old Division 2 in 2011, and after they lost last year’s Division 2A final to Kerry, there was more heartbreak for Michael Ryan’s side in this defeat.
This was an impressive turn in fortune for Seamus Plunkett’s side who had lost all five of their Division 1B games and last week’s 1B relegation play-off to Kerry, but this display ensures that they will populate Division 1B for the fourth year in a row.
Without perhaps their two most potent attacking weapons from the start – Zane Keenan (injury) and Willie Hyland (suspension) – Laois were bright up front in the first-half with five of their forwards finding the target from play.
But at the other end Westmeath had the standout forward in Niall O’Brien, who hit six points from play before the interval to help his side to a 0-12 to 0-11 lead at half-time.
O’Brien got the first point of the game after less than a minute, and after Scully gathered the break from the puck-out to score, two in a row from Eoin Price and Cormac Boyle meant Westmeath lead 0-3 to 0-1 after three minutes.
Three in a row from Laois, including a brilliant point from the left from Willie Dunphy, saw them a point ahead by the ninth minute, but O’Brien and Liam Varley scores at the other end saw Westmeath lead two minutes later.
Westmeath, the only team in the six divisions of league hurling not to concede a goal in the season to date, didn’t look as secure as usual at the back and there were guilty of overplaying the ball on a few occasions as they carried out of defence. Four Laois points in the first-half came directly from mistakes at the back from Westmeath, but they were razor sharp on the front foot.
The first of four Scully frees before the break saw Laois take a 0-07 to 0-06 lead after 17 minutes, but O’Brien hit three of the last four points for his side before the break to give them a deserved one-point lead at the break.
Keenan was deemed fit enough to come on at half-time for Laois, but it was his teammates that got Laois off to a flying start as Cha Dwyer and Scully both pointed from play in the first 40 seconds of the half to turn around the lead they never lost from there.
After good passing from Brendan Murtagh and Eoin Price, Varley flashed a goal chance wide in the 38th minute for Westmeath, and Laois’ reply was a magical point from Dwyer from wide on the left.
With Scully on form from frees, points from Dwyer and Dunphy saw Laois well in control as they led by five points with ten minutes remaining, and further scores from Keenan, Dwyer and Mark Kavanagh saw them run out easy winners.
Laois: E Rowland (0-01, 0-01f); D Palmer, D Maher, C Healy; L Bergin, M Whelan, R Mullaney; P Purcell, C Stapleton; C Dwyer (0-06), N Foyle (0-01), W Dunphy (0-02); PJ Scully (0-10, 0-06f, 0-01’65), S Maher, J Lennon (0-01).
Subs: Z Keenan (0-01) for Maher (h-t), M Kavanagh (0-01) for Dunphy (58), J Phelan for Palmer (67), E Fennelly for Foyle (69), B Reddin for Lennon (73).
Westmeath: P Maloney; S Power, T Doyle, T Gallagher; A Craig, A Clarke (c), A McGrath; C Boyle (0-01), G Greville; A Devine, N O’Brien (0-07), L Varley (0-01); N Dowdall (0-01), B Murtagh (0-03, 0-03f), E Price (0-03).
Subs: K Duncan for Doyle (32-33 mins blood), R Greville for Dowdall (h-t), D McNicholas for Varley (49), C Doyle for Boyle (58), K Duncan for Power (67),
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow)
In today's other play-off ties, Roscommon edged out Donegal by a point - 3-13 to 4-09 in their Division 2B do-or-die encounter in Ballina, while in 3A, Tyrone got the better of Fermanagh by five points after extra time - 1-24 to 1-19.