Paul Kingston hits second-half hat-trick as Laois stun Westmeath
Laois 4-13 Westmeath 1-12
Laois made light of their lowly league status to knock Division 3 side Westmeath out of the Leinster football championship in Tullamore. The Division 4 champions will now meet the winners of Sunday's Kildare v Carlow game in their first provincial semi-final appearance since 2009.
The winners had played more than one hundred 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 who had 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.
Paul Kingston grabbed a hat trick of second half goals for Laois, who won back-to-back Leinster championship matches for the first time since 2007.
Even though they had the breeze, Laois found the going tough against Westmeath's 12-man defence and were 3-1 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 key highlights of a largely uneventful first half, though not for Westmeath's corner forward John Connellan who was black-carded five minutes before the break after tripping Gareth Dillon seconds after the defender – who had an outstanding match - had dispossessed him.
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 the closing ten minutes of the half. Substitute Niall Donoher contributed a brace to leave them four ahead at the break (0-10; 0-6).
The sides exchanges early points in the second half in which Laois dominated 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 Kingston in space and he rifled an unstoppable shot to the roof of the Westmeath net. Ger Egan pulled a point back through a free but Kingston punished Westmeath again in the 50th minute when he drove a low shot to the Westmeath net despite the despairing efforts of Sam Duncan to keep it out.
Laois were now nine points clear. Westmeath scored the next two points and then introduced team captain John Heslin and, with 14 minutes remaining, they secured a lifeline when a speculative ball from Ger 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 moment in the contest, completed his hat-trick with a brilliant goal in the 60th minute. Any lingering doubts about the outcome was finally put to bed when Laois substitute Evan O'Carroll scored 1-1 within ninety seconds of his introduction.
Laois: G Brody; S Attride, M Timmons, G Dillon; T Collins (0-1), C Begley (0-1), F Crowley; J O'Loughlin, K Lillis; A Farrell (0-1), P Kingston (3-2), D O'Connor; R Munnelly (0-3, 3f), D Kingston (0-1, 1f), B Carroll. Subs: N Donoher (0-2) for Farrell 22m; Evan O'Carroll (1-1) for Carroll 58m; Darren Strong for O'Connor 58m; D Conway for Munnelly 63m; G Walsh (0-1) for D Kingston 67m. D Booth for Attride 75m
Westmeath: S Gallagher; M McCallon (1-0), S Duncan, J Gonoud; J Egan, A Stone, N Mulligan; D Corroon, D Daly; K Martin (0-1), C McCormack, G Egan (0-4); L Loughlin (0-3, 2f), R O'Toole (0-1), J Connellan (0-1, 1f). Subs: F Coyne (0-2) for Connellan (BC) 30m; R Wallace for Daly 42m; A McGivney for Egan 49m; J Heslin for O'Toole 54m. B Sayeh for Mulligan 71m; D Whelan for McCallon 71m.
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)