Saturday 24 August 2019

Laois make better use of the wind to blow Westmeath right off course

Laois 0-12 Westmeath 0-10

That’s my boy: John O’Loughlin of Laois is congratulated by his father Oliver after the game. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
That’s my boy: John O’Loughlin of Laois is congratulated by his father Oliver after the game. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

With Dublin's giant shadow darkening the whole of Leinster for so long, it was tempting to ask one of the chasing pack about the gulf between them and Jim Gavin's history-chasers.

We could enquire, but John Sugrue wasn't for engaging on that particular subject.

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Denis Booth of Laois in action against Ger Egan of Westmeath. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Denis Booth of Laois in action against Ger Egan of Westmeath. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

His Laois team, who joined so many others in taking a heavy beating from Dublin last year, don't have to worry about a rematch, not yet anyway.

For now, all his thoughts are on Meath, who will be their semi-final opponents on Sunday week.

"We have to worry about the gulf between ourselves and Meath first," said Sugrue, who had just witnessed his team grind out a win over Westmeath in O'Connor Park.

It wasn't the sort of performance that would send Dublin into deep conclave but Royal boss Andy McEntee will have seen enough to convince him that Laois will be tricky opponents.

Ronan O Toole of Westmeath in action against Seán O'Flynn of Laois. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Ronan O Toole of Westmeath in action against Seán O'Flynn of Laois. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Performance

Still, their task was made easier than it should have been by a Westmeath performance that left them deeply frustrated.

They are better than this, but championship days are when teams need to perform on full potential and, unfortunately for Westmeath, they didn't deliver.

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The strong, swirling wind posed a big challenge for both teams, but Laois coped better, especially when playing against it in the second half.

They scored four points in that period, whereas Westmeath managed just two in the first half. They didn't score at all for 23 minutes and finished the half with only two points, both from Ger Egan frees.

Laois were on eight points at that stage, leaving Westmeath in need of a really big second-half performance.

They had beaten Laois twice in Division 3 this year so their supporters would have been quite hopeful of a winning comeback, especially when John Heslin began the recovery process with an inspirational point within seconds of the restart.

It might have been the catalyst for a power surge but, in fairness to Laois, they held their nerve as Westmeath turned up the pressure.

They were still five points ahead at the three-quarter stage before a dramatic momentum shift saw Westmeath out-score them 5-1 over the next 16 minutes.

It left Laois clinging to a one-point lead heading into stoppage time, with the odds shortening all the time on Westmeath forcing a replay. They had some chances too but failed to take them and, in a late-late counter-attack, Laois sub Eoin Lowry added a point.

Relief all round for Laois, with Sugrue admitting that his side were a touch fortunate in the end.

"Westmeath were probably a little bit unlucky that one or two of their late shots didn't glide over, but we'll take that bit of luck. We still have work to do - there's no two ways about it," he said.

Their planning will be as Leinster semi-finalists, while Westmeath are heading for last chance saloon in the qualifiers, where they haven't done well for quite a long time. Despite that, manager Jack Cooney remained upbeat about the rest of their championship campaign.

"We won't be lacking focus or effort or drive - that's for certain. The lads have put in too much work just to leave at this. We exit one competition, we enter another and we'll be putting our best foot forward," he said.

The first-season boss will have been deeply frustrated by Westmeath's poor first-half performance, which ultimately left them with too much to do.

"It wasn't the start we would have wanted. A big factor in the first half was the number of turnovers. We had a lot of them against us - some of them unforced. It's certainly an area we need to focus on.

"Having said that, we created more in the first half than two points suggested. We could have added a few more, which would have made a big difference going into the second half.

"Six points wasn't insurmountable with that wind. We went after it in the second half, we chased their kick-outs and had some good chances.

"We were bossing possession and creating chances, while limiting Laois at the other end. A few of those chances just didn't come off for us. If they did, it might be very different. We got the ball into some very good possessions but didn't turn it into scores."

They were relying too much on Ger Egan's accuracy from frees, whereas Laois posed a greater threat from open play. Still, Westmeath put themselves in a position to force the game into extra time, but failed to capitalise on good chances.

Frustrating

"That's frustrating, but we just need to learn from it," said Cooney.

The lessons will need to be absorbed before they begin their qualifier campaign because otherwise a season that started so well, when they won promotion to Division 2, could end on a flat note.

Meanwhile, Laois head into the semi-final, knowing that they will need to raise their game for the clash with Meath, who were easy winners over Carlow on Saturday.

There's considerable room for improvement, but they will benefit from this outing, which was their first in the championship.

Scorers - Laois: E O'Carroll 0-8 (5f), P Kingston 0-2, C Boyle, E Lowry 0-1 each. Westmeath: G Egan 0-7 (6f), J Heslin, R O'Toole, C McCormack 0-1 each.

Laois - G Brody 7; D Booth 7, M Timmons (N/A), G Dillon 8; S O'Flynn 7, C Begley 7, P O'Sullivan 7; J O'Loughlin 7, K Lillis 7; D O'Reilly 7, C Boyle 6, D O'Connor 7; P Kingston 7, C Murphy 5, E Carroll 8. Subs: R Piggott 7 for Timmons (8), M Scully 7 for Murphy (ht), D Kingston 7 for Boyle (60), B Quigley for O'Connor (67), E Lowry for O'Reilly (67), S Byrne for Begley (70).

Westmeath - E Carberry 6; K Maguire 6, B Sayeh 7, R Wallace 6; K Daly 7, F Boyle 6, J Dolan 7; S Duncan 6, D Corroon 7; N Mulligan 6, D Lynch 6, K Martin 6; R O'Toole 7, J Heslin 7, G Egan 7. Subs: C McCormack 6 for Duncan (32), L O'Toole 7 for Boyle (ht), D Giles for Corroon (61).

Ref - F Kelly (Longford).

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