COLM Kelly put in an inspired performance, landing four of his 0-9 haul from play, to help ease Laois to victory over Athlone IT in Portarlington.
After a cagey opening to the game, Laois cut loose in the last 10 minutes of the first half, scoring 1-6 without reply. Kelly (right) scored four points in that spell, with Mark Timmons tapping home a goal to leave Athlone with a mountain to climb.
Kelly pointed again early in the second half, before a well-worked move put Gary Walsh through on goal, and he expertly finished past Padraig Bannon.
Left with a mountain to climb, Athlone IT never looked like getting back into it, and Laois kept pulling further ahead.
Points from Kelly, Walsh, John O'Loughlin and Emmett Malone kept the home side well on top and, despite a spirited late flurry from Athlone, they held on for comfortable win.
Scorers – Laois: C Kelly 0-9 (5f), G Walsh 1-4 (0-2f), M Timmons 1-0, D Strong, D Murphy, B Sheehan 0-2 each, J O'Loughlin, E Malone 0-1 each Athlone IT: F Burke 0-4 (2f), D Queeney 0-3 (1f, 1 45), C Shine 0-2 (1f), A Coffey, P Masterson, J Dolan, A Caul 0-1 each.
LAOIS – D Kelly; P Begley, K Meaney, R Kehoe; C Healy, S Julian, D Strong; M Timmons, J O'Loughlin; D Murphy, B Sheehan, D O'Connor; C Delaney, G Walsh, C Kelly. Subs: K Lillis for Healy (40), C Coss for Sheehan (51), E Malone for O'Connor (57), J Kavanagh for Begley (57), J Finn for Kelly (59).
Athlone IT – P Bannon; E Kerins, C O'Brien, T Rahill; D Maleady, K Martin, L Murphy; C Duggan, D Queeney; J Dolan, J Mulligan, J McGivney; F Burke, C Shine, A Coffey. Subs: A Caul for Maleady (h-t), P Masterson for McGivney (h-t), A Stone for O'Brien (48), D Walsh for Coffey (59), D Egan for Kerins (67).
Ref – G McCormack (Dublin)