2018 continues to be a hugely successful season for Laois football as John Sugrue’s men negotiated their way to a first Leinster semi-finals in nine years.
The Midlanders were convincing winners over Westmeath at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park Saturday evening.
They were full value for the win as Westmeath played some good running football in the first quarter of this tie, but failed utterly to build on that and can have no complaints with their first winless Leinster campaign in four years.
The brilliance of Paul Kingston lit up this tie as he fired in three second half goals, including two stunning finishes from almost the same spot some 15 metres out from goal, while Evan O’Carroll came off the bench to stamp his name on the contest, producing two sumptuous finishes to put 1-1 to his name.
Luke Loughlin and Ger Egan were particularly prominent for Westmeath early on as they moved into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead after 20 minutes, but that didn’t last as Laois took control at midfield and set up a series of chances, completely changing the balance of the game.
Kieran Lillis got on a world of ball in his role as the hard-working midfielder, while John O’Loughlin ruled the skies, claiming several first half marks to put Westmeath on the back foot.
Trevor Collins, Colm Begley and Alan Farrell were all on target as Laois moved 0-10 to 0-6 ahead by half time, with Niall Donoher adding two points after his introduction late in the half, but with a strong breeze set to favour Westmeath after the break, the tie was still finely poised.
Just a point apiece was added in the ten minutes after half-time however, and with Westmeath starting to get nervous in the face of the relentless ticking of the clock, Paul Kingston was able to find space, pick up a pass from Colm Begley and blast the ball to the roof of the Lake County net from 15 metres out.
Four minutes later he added a second, and Laois should have had a third when he ran in and set up Benny Carroll, but Carroll was adjudged to have thrown rather than palmed the ball into the net while standing at the far post.
It looked as if Laois might pay for that error when Finbar Coyne kicked two nice points and then a scrappy Mark McCallon goal cut the gap to four points, but Kingston produced another stunning finish to stretch the lead once more, and the tie was well and truly settled when Evan O’Carroll added his late cameo.
Laois will now advance to meet the winners of tomorrow’s quarter-final clash between Carlow and Kildare, while Westmeath will be part of Monday morning’s qualifier draw.
Laois: G Brody; S Attride, M Timmons, G Dillon; T Collins (0-01), C Begley (0-01), F Crowley; J O’Loughlin, K Lillis; A Farrell (0-01), P Kingston (3-02), D O’Connor; R Munnelly (0-03, frees), D Kingston (0-01, free), B Carroll.
Subs: N Donoher (0-02) for Farrell (23), E O’Carroll (1-01) for Carroll (59), D Strong for O’Connor (59), D Conway for Munnelly (63), S Nerney for Timmons (65, blood) G Walsh (0-01) for D Kingston (67), D Booth for Attride (70+5)
Westmeath: S Gallagher; J Gonoud, S Duncan, M McCallon (1-00); J Egan, A Stone, N Mulligan; D Corroon, D Daly; K Martin (0-01), C McCormack, G Egan (0-03, 0-01 free); J Connellan (0-01 free), R O’Toole (0-01), L Loughlin (0-04, 0-02 frees).
Subs: F Coyne (0-02) for Connellan (31, black card), R Wallace for Daly (42), A McGivney for Egan (49), J Heslin for O’Toole (55), B Sayeh for Mulligan (70+1), D Whelan for McCallon (70+1)
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)