Kingston hat-trick puts Lake men to the sword
Laois 4-13 Westmeath 1-12
A second-half hat-trick from Paul Kingston was instrumental in securing Division 4 champions Laois a Leinster quarter-final win over Westmeath in Tullamore last night.
Laois will now meet the winners of today's Kildare v Carlow game in their first provincial semi-final appearance since 2009.
The winners had played more than 100 minutes of championship football - their first-round clash against another Division 3 side, Wexford, went to extra-time - and this proved decisive against a weakened Westmeath side who contested back-to-back Leinster finals in 2015 and 2016.
After a promising start under new boss Colin Kelly, Westmeath's season has unravelled. They finished fourth in Division 3 and then lost their vice-captain James Dolan, who opted to play football in the US during the summer.
Worse still, they started without their captain and top scorer John Heslin - sidelined with a hip injury - and although he was introduced in the final quarter, the game was slipping beyond their reach at that stage.
It's the first time since 2007 that Laois have won back-to-back matches in the Leinster championship, which represents a good return for new boss John Sugrue.
The Lake men started strongly, though. Even though they had the breeze, Laois found the going tough against Westmeath's 12-man defence and were 0-3 to 0-1 down after ten minutes.
Their woes worsened when referee Padraig Hughes turned down Donie Kingston's legitimate claim for a penalty after he appeared to be pulled back by Sam Duncan - who was booked just before the break for persistent fouling.
The battle between this pair was one of the highlights of a largely uneventful first half, though not for Westmeath corner-forward John Connellan who was black-carded five minutes before the break after tripping the outstanding Gareth Dillon.
By then Laois - who had fallen three points behind by the 17th minute - had finally got their act together, winning a succession of their opponents' kick-outs, and they kicked six points on the spin in closing ten minutes of the half to leave them 0-10 to 0-6 ahead at the break. Substitute Niall Donoher got two.
The sides exchanged points on the resumption. Laois dominated the second half territorially but again found it difficult to penetrate the Westmeath rearguard. Wing-back Trevor Collins had a chance after a pass from Paul Kingston but he shot straight at goalkeeper Stephen Gallagher in the 44th minute
But a minute later they did make the breakthrough when Colm Begley found Paul Kingston in space and he rifled an unstoppable shot to the roof of the net.
Ger Egan pulled a point back through a free but Paul Kingston punished Westmeath again in the 50th minute when he drove a low shot to the net despite the despairing efforts of Sam Duncan.
Laois were now nine points clear; Westmeath scored the next two points and then introduced Heslin, and with 14 minutes remaining they secured a lifeline when a speculative ball from Egan was met by Kieran Martin. His effort was blocked but corner-back Mark McCallon drove the rebound to the net.
But straight from the kick-out Laois drove down the field and Paul Kingston, whose move to the edge of the square was a pivotal switch, completed his hat-trick with a brilliant goal in the 60th minute.
Any lingering doubts about the outcome were finally put to bed when Laois substitute Evan O'Carroll scored 1-1 within 90 seconds of his introduction.
Scorers - Laois: P Kingston 3-2; E O'Carroll 1-1; R Munnelly 0-3 (3f); N Donoher 0-2; T Collins, C Begley, A Farrell, D Kingston (f), G Walsh 0-1 each. Westmeath: G Egan 0-4; L Loughlin 0-3 (2f); M McCallon 1-0; F Coyne 0-2; K Martin, R O'Toole, J Connellan (f) 0-1 each.
Laois: G Brody; S Attride, M Timmons, G Dillon; T Collins, C Begley, F Crowley; J O'Loughlin, K Lillis; A Farrell, P Kingston, D O'Connor; R Munnelly, D Kingston, B Carroll. Subs: N Donoher for Farrell (22); Evan O'Carroll for Carroll (58); D Strong for O'Connor (58); D Conway for Munnelly (63); G Walsh for D Kingston (67), D Booth for Attride (75).
Westmeath: S Gallagher; M McCallon, S Duncan, J Gonoud; J Egan, A Stone, N Mulligan; D Corroon, D Daly; K Martin, C McCormack, G Egan; L Loughlin, R O'Toole, J Connellan. Subs: F Coyne for Connellan (BC, 30); R Wallace for Daly (42); A McGivney for Egan (49); J Heslin for O'Toole (54); B Sayeh for Mulligan (71); D Whelan for McCallon (71).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).
Sunday Indo Sport