Plunkett: I'm so proud of Laois spirit
Laois 0-23 Westmeath 0-16
Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett hailed the character and spirit of his Laois side as the scoring exploits of Charles Dwyer helped the O'Moore men retain their Division 1B status with their maiden win of the campaign.
Due to retirement, injury and suspension, Laois named just five of the team that started against Westmeath in the round-robin series a year ago and the new-look side dug deep to avoid relegation in an entertaining game featuring 29 points from play.
Niall O'Brien was in scintillating form, hitting six points in the opening half to leave Westmeath leading 0-12 to 0-11 at the break. But with Cahir Healy assigned to keep close tabs on him in after the interval, and Patrick Purcell mopping up as sweeper, Laois gained the upper hand.
Michael Ryan's side were outscored 0-12 to 0-4 in the second half with Dwyer firing over four of his six magnificent points, the best of which was an exquisite effort off his hurl, when Laois needed their joint-captain most.
With Neil Foyle quietening the influential Tommy Doyle when moved to the edge of the square, and PJ Scully looking dangerous throughout, they sealed the deal to prove that seven days is a long time in the hurling world.
Just a week previous they were left staring into an abyss having been pummelled by Kerry, and Plunkett praised his side's resolve in the face of adversity, particularly in the absence of suspended talisman Willie Hyland.
"It's a serious achievement for this team to stay in Division 1 considering all the blows we were dealt," he said. "These lads have given so much to this team in the last few years and to go back to Division 2 would have been another blow to us. It's a great boost.
"There's serious spirit in these lads and I'm immensely proud about that. The victory is important but I'm actually more proud of the character that's in the group. Everybody digs in when they're needed."
Despite winning five out of their six league ties and beating Carlow in the 2A final a fortnight ago, Westmeath's progress will be stunted as they spend another year in the third tier.
Ryan refused to blame the league structures, however, and admitted Laois were full value for their seven-point victory despite Westmeath keeping their seventh consecutive clean sheet with no goal conceded during their plucky push for promotion.
"Getting out of 2A was our main target this year but I don't think this is about the system and we've no complaints with the result, Laois were by far the better team," Ryan said. "Our second-half performance wasn't up to scratch; the most disappointing thing for me is that we didn't do ourselves justice out there. This was a real test and we just weren't up to it on the day."
SCORERS - Laois: PJ Scully 0-10 (6f, 1 '65), C Dwyer 0-6, W Dunphy 0-2, M Kavanagh, N Foyle, J Lennon, E Rowland (f) and Z Keenan 0-1 each. Westmeath: N O'Brien 0-7, E Price and B Murtagh (3f) 0-3 each, L Varley, C Boyle and N Dowdall 0-1 each.
LAOIS: E Rowland 7; D Palmer 7, D Maher 7, C Healy 9; L Bergin 7, M Whelan 7, R Mullaney 8; P Purcell 9, C Stapleton 7; C Dwyer 9, N Foyle 8, W Dunphy 7, J Lennon 7, S Maher 5, PJ Scully 8. Subs: Z Keenan 6 for S Maher (ht), M Kavanagh 7 for W Dunphy (58), J Phelan for D Palmer (67), E Fennelly for N Foyle (69) and B Reddin for J Lennon (73).
WESTMEATH: P Maloney 7; S Power 6, T Doyle 8, T Gallagher 7; A Craig 6, A Clarke 7, A McGrath 6; C Boyle 6, G Greville 6; L Varley 6, N O'Brien 8, E Price 7; A Devine 6, B Murtagh 5, N Dowdall 5. Subs: K Durcan for T Doyle (BS 32), T Doyle for K Durcan (BS 33), R Greville 6 for N Dowdall (ht), D McNicholas 6 for L Varley (49), K Doyle 6 for C Boyle (59), K Durcan for S Power (67) .
REF - J Keenan (Wicklow)