Brody foray is costly as Westmeath clinch title
Westmeath 1-13 Laois 0-13
The defining moment made Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody the unfortunate villain of the piece, left shaking his head in frustration when, in one of his many outfield forays, he gave the ball away and Westmeath countered for the game's only goal.
On the hour mark of a tight affair, his attempted pass was intercepted in the middle of the field, triggering a sweetly choreographed Westmeath move that resulted in a goal for Ger Egan, the day's best player.
Egan finished with 1-7, having already been comfortably Westmeath's top marksman in the league, and also their top scorer when they defeated Laois earlier in the league this year by precisely the same margin. But the Laois manager John Sugrue defended his goalkeeper's fondness for playing the field, Brody turning up at times in the opposite half.
"I'm in this job 18 months," said Sugrue. "Graham has come out north of 100 times, I think we conceded one in Leitrim last year, again an execution issue. That's the second one today. So of 100 patterns of play that he's been involved in, two goals is probably not a big return for the opposition. It's one goal, a fairly significant one today but they're the margins you're playing with."
The goal moved Westmeath four points clear, after the teams had been tied five times, and they pushed that out to six points before Laois started eating into their lead towards the end of the game. The goal they needed to force extra time never materialised, nor looked likely.
"We are delighted with the win," stated Westmeath manager Jack Cooney after they clinched the Division Three title, without being fooled into thinking it was a compelling performance.
"I think there was a lot of fatigue there because the lads have played a lot of games since the turn of the year. That performance, going forward I know the lads won't be happy with a lot of elements of it. That is the first thing we will be sitting down analysing for the championship."
The championship is seven weeks away, a repeat of last year's Leinster quarter-final tie against Laois in Tullamore, when Laois scored four goals and won by ten points.
Under Sugrue they have emerged from Division Four to win two successive promotions and reach last year's Leinster final. But they were poor here, hitting 15 wides and over-relying again on Donie Kingston to provide something special.
"Seven weeks is a long time," says Sugrue. "They'll be different and we'll be different in seven weeks' time. It gives us a chance to really go at addressing our weaknesses from today and hopefully we'll get closer to them on the 26th of May."
They began well, scoring the first two points inside six minutes and Westmeath didn't score for another 11, and should have been 1-2 down by then.
A minute before Ger Egan opened Westmeath's account, Kingston picked out Paul Cahillane behind the maroon cover and he should have goaled from close range but struck wide. Laois made a series of changes, introducing veterans Brendan Quigley and Ross Munnelly, but they never played with any real fluency.
For 20 minutes Westmeath were down to 14, when they suffered successive black-card sin-bins for defenders James Dolan and Boidu Sayeh, and immediately after the interval the first loss coincided with Laois hitting the opening three points to go in front, having trailed 0-5 to 0-7 at the break.
Laois were in Division One in 2012, before going into a tailspin, and Westmeath's drop was even more swift, demoted in successive years from Division 1 to 4 between 2012 and '16. Like Laois, they are making incremental recovery but neither looks to be carrying much prospects, on this evidence, for the championship.
"If you could put your finger on why we kicked the ball away so many times," sighed Sugrue, "kicked it over fellas' heads, kicked it directly to Westmeath fellas, handed it to Westmeath fellas. If you could put your finger on why we did that I think we'd have had a different result today."
O'Carroll kicked two 45s but had an indifferent day on placed balls. He still managed to finish up their leading scorer with 0-6, one more than Kingston. Westmeath had a bit more scoring range, Ronan O'Toole impressing with a couple of tidy points. They were marginally better and missed less.
And on the goal that decided it, Cooney said: "It is something we have probably been focusing on a little bit over the last few weeks and months - to play with our heads up, to see what is in front, if there is an opportunity there, to go for it.
"It has worked well for us during the league. We have got goals in important games in the O'Byrne Cup and in the league up to now. I think that goal there was another good example of that."