Eoin Keyes goal pivotal as Westmeath secure NHL Division 1 status in play-off clash with Laois

Westmeath 3-24 Laois 1-26

25 March 2023; Eoin Keyes of Westmeath in action against Donnchadh Hartnett of Laois during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Relegation Play-Off match between Westmeath and Laois at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

A goal seven minutes from the end of normal time from sub Eoin Keyes was crucial as Westmeath guaranteed themselves Division 1 hurling for 2024 with a hard-earned win against Laois in a very entertaining contest in Thurles on Saturday.

Scores came thick and fast right from the first whistle, with Willie Maher's charges looking marginally the livelier team in the early exchanges.

Thirteen points overall in as many minutes had Laois ahead by 0-8 to 0-5 when Ciaran Doyle and Joey Boyle combined for the latter to flick the ball one-handed to the net for an equalising goal in the 14th minute.

The sides were still level (1-9 to 0-12) when Joe Fortune's troops took the lead for the first time in the 26th minute, the sliotar falling kindly for Niall O'Brien who advanced goalward before flicking it past Enda Rowland.

Ciarán Doyle edged the Lake County ahead by 2-10 to 0-15 with the last puck of the first half.

Free-takers Killian Doyle (three) and Stephen Maher (two) shared the first five points of the second half.

It continued to be difficult to separate two evenly-matched teams and they were tied (2-19 to 0-25) when the all-important third Westmeath goal came in the 63rd minute, substitute Keyes powering forward and unleashing a great low shot to the net.

Rowland came forward to blast home an injury-time goal from a free for the O'Moore County, but veteran sub Derek McNicholas' classy late brace of points gave Westmeath vital breathing space, ensuring that Laois will play in Division 2 next spring.

Scorers – Westmeath: K Doyle 0-11 (8f), J Boyle 1-2, E Keyes 1-1, C Doyle 0-4, N O'Brien 1-0, D McNicholas 0-2, J Galvin, R Greville, D Glennon, D Clinton (f) 0-1 each. Laois: S Maher 0-8 (7f), J Keyes 0-5, E Rowland 1-0 (f), J Kelly, A Dunphy, T Keyes, S Bergin, R King 0-2 each, M Phelan, I Shanahan, J Duggan 0-1 each.

Westmeath: N Conaty 7; D Egerton 7, C Shaw 6, J Bermingham 5; A Craig 6, T Doyle 7, J Galvin 7; S McGovern 6, R Greville 8; C Doyle 8, J Boyle 7, K Regan 6; D Glennon 7, K Doyle 8, N O'Brien 6. Subs: E Keyes 7 for Bermingham (23), P Clarke 6 for Regan (52), S Clavin 6 for C Doyle (inj., 63), D Clinton 6 for O'Brien (66), D McNicholas 7 for K Doyle (inj., 70).

Laois: E Rowland 7; FC Fennell 7, P Delaney 6, D Hartnett 6; R Mullaney 6, I Shanahan 6, P Lalor 6; P Purcell 6, J Kelly 7; A Dunphy 7, S Maher 7, T Keyes 6; M Phelan 6, J Keyes 8, S Bergin 6. Subs: R King 7 for Lalor (39), W Dunphy 6 for Bergin (52), PJ Scully 6 for T Keyes (61), J Duggan 6 for Phelan (68).

Referee: S Stack (Dublin).