Egan's priceless goal fires Westmeath to silverware
Westmeath 1-13 Laois 0-13
Fifteen years after these counties contested a Leinster football final in front of tens of thousands, the pickings in this Allianz FL Division 3 final were leaner and the occasion more down at heel. In a poor match it took a blunder to finally break the deadlock on the hour mark after the teams had been level five times.
With Laois trailing by a point, their goalkeeper Graham Brody, on one of his many outfield excursions, had a short kick-pass intercepted in midfield and it led to a move that ended with Ger Egan blasting to the net, Brody hopelessly stranded.
From there Westmeath hit a purple patch and opened a six-point lead, which was gradually halved by Laois before the finish. But the goal was priceless.
Both counties have had years of hardship since they both last scaled the summit in Leinster but they are at least now headed in the right direction, looking forward to Division 2 football next season.
For Laois, the road has been particularly scenic, taking in a brief plunge into the deep waters of Division 4 from the platform of Division 1 in 2012. Under Kerry native John Sugrue they have made steady progress, winning successive promotions. But they hit 15 wides and the mistake leading to the goal cost them dearly.
Last year the counties met again in the championship in Tullamore, Laois winning by ten points and scoring four goals, eventually reaching the Leinster final.
This Division 3 final was much more tentative and shot-shy. In league football Westmeath's fortunes have been even more unstable than those of Laois, with a freefall from Division 1 to 4 in successive seasons between 2014 and '16. Against Laois, they have had the better recent track record, including a win earlier this season, and Laois' last league win was nine years ago.
Laois were two points behind at the break after a dreadfully uninspiring first half, but restarted well to level within two minutes with points from Evan O'Carroll, a free, and one from play by Donie Kingston, who soon restored the lead his side held early in the match with a point from an offensive mark.
Egan finished man of the match with a 1-7 tally, 1-3 from play. Kingston was Laois' best player but their finishing left much to be desired.
Westmeath played two spells a man short, suffering their second black card ten minutes into the second half when Boidu Sayeh had to leave with Laois leading 0-10 to 0-9. Near half-time James Dolan suffered the same fate and Laois made the most of that advantage after the interval.
Laois made the better start to the second half, with early points from O'Carroll and one from Kingston after six minutes. But the football was poor, with both sides guilty of sloppy finishing, sharing 12 first-half wides, eight from Laois.
Laois missed a glorious goal chance on the quarter-hour mark when Kingston put Paul Cahillane through but he shot wide after looking certain to score. A minute later, Westmeath broke their duck when leading marksman Egan scored neatly.
That signalled an improved spell for Jack Cooney's side with points from Egan and Ronan O'Toole drawing them level by the 23rd minute and Egan putting Westmeath in front two minutes later.
Laois ended a 14-minute scoring drought with a '45 from O'Carroll four minutes from the interval after Westmeath had extended their lead to two points.
Westmeath were three to the good before O'Carroll closed the scoring in injury-time, leaving Westmeath 0-7 to 0-5 in front at the break. You could only hope for better when the returned for the second half. You would have been hoping in vain.
Scorers - Westmeath: G Egan 1-7 (3fs, 1m); R O'Toole 0-2; J Heslin, M Martin, R Wallace, D Lynch 0-1. Laois: E O'Carroll 0-6 (3fs, 2 '45s); D Kingston 0-5 (2fs, 1m), E Lowry, M Timmons 0-1.
Westmeath: E Carberry; K Maguire, R Wallace, B Sayeh; J Dolan, N Mulligan, K Daly; S Duncan, D Corroon; D Lynch, K Martin, R O'Toole; L Loughlin, J Heslin, G Egan. Subs: N O'Reilly for Lynch (65); J Hannigan for Mulligan (66); T McDaniel for Loughlin (71); D Giles for O'Toole (75).
Laois: G Brody; G Dillon, M Timmons, S Attride; T Collins, C Begley, S O'Flynn; J O'Loughlin, K Lillis; E Lowry, C Boyle, M Scully; D Kingston, E O'Carroll, P Cahillane. Subs: R Munnelly for Lowry & B Carroll for Boyle (48); B Quigley for Lillis & P Kingston for Cahillane (57); D O'Connor for Scully (67).
Referee: J Henry (Mayo)
Sunday Indo Sport