Laois overcome 'Croke Park mistakes' to heap more misery on Westmeath
Laois 3-26 Westmeath 1-21
Westmeath hadn't yet left the Croke Park pitch, but manager Joe Quaid was already trying to lift them for what was to come down the road.
Yesterday's defeat was only his side's second loss of the year across league and Championship, but it was also their second Joe McDonagh Cup final in two seasons.
Still, as Laois were collecting their prize, Quaid asked his players to make a solemn promise to themselves and each other.
"Everybody gave everything that was in them there today and that's all you can ask," he reflected.
"I got them into a huddle in the middle of the field rather than waiting until the dressing room, while Laois were up getting the cup. And the one thing I asked was that we are back here next year and it is us going up the steps of the Hogan Stand.
"And I know that's a long way away for a lot of lads to think about and it's hard to do, but this is where it starts.
"You learn from today, if you lose and don't learn it's pointless, so we have learned a lot today and learned a lot about where we need to be to get to the next level.
"I've said it all along that when I took the job we'd get Division 1 status in the league and we'd get up to the Liam MacCarthy and the Leinster Championship when we are ready. We are probably not ready yet."
The record books will record an 11-point win, but Westmeath were much closer than that for long periods of the game. It was only down the home straight that Eddie Brennan's men opened their legs and went for home and in Mark Kavanagh and Aaron Dunphy they had two of the game's best players.
They accounted for 1-16 between them to help Laois to a scoring rate that Westmeath couldn't quite match.
Quaid's side scored the first two points of the game, but once Ross King slammed home from close range on four minutes, Laois were never headed.
A brilliant second goal from Dunphy on 19 minutes pushed Brennan's side into a five-point lead, but Westmeath hit back with a goal of their own almost immediately through Killian Doyle.
Doyle and Kavanagh had turned the first quarter into their own personal battle as between them they accounted for nine of the first 10 points of the game. Kavanagh's sixth point was the last score of the half and helped Laois take a 2-11 to 1-10 lead in at the break.
The second-half went along similar lines, with Laois doing just enough to keep their noses in front for the third quarter.
Westmeath scored the first two points of the second-half to reduce the gap to two, but that would be as close as they managed to get.
Stephen Bergin grabbed Laois's third goal, while on as a blood sub for Kavanagh, to put five between the sides with just over 20 to play.
It felt like a long way back for Westmeath from there and Laois finished strong to run out comfortable winners, with Brennan's replacements contributing 1-5.
"It was a grind there for a while in the first-half. There was, what I would class the 'Croke Park mistakes' kicking in. At times we'd have encouraged them and said, 'the mistake I don't want you to make is to stand back and not believe in yourself'. That was the key message from me and at half-time we just reinforced that message. We said, 'look, it's going to break open into a match soon and we have to be ready for it, we have to keep making the tackles and hunting them down'.
"There were certain aspects of that first-half I was really pleased with. We got some really good scores, but again, the Croke Park nerves, schoolboy errors that normally we wouldn't do.
"Like, we let a lad walk right through the middle of our defence and it ended up in a goal. That's the stuff you try to eradicate, but after a day like today and what we're after doing I'm not going to be beating anyone with that stick."
SCORERS - Laois: M Kavanagh 0-12 (5f, 1 65); A Dunphy 1-4; S Bergin, R King 1-0 each; E Lyons 0-3; C Dwyer, N Foyle, J Lennon 0-2 each; P Purcell 0-1. Westmeath: K Doyle 1-11 (6f, 1 sl); A Clarke, C Doyle 0-2 each; S Clavin, J Boyle, D McNicholas, C Boyle, A Devine, E Price 0-1 each.
Laois - E Rowland 7; L Cleere 6, M Whelan 7, D Hartnett 7; J Kelly 7, R Mullaney 7, P Delaney 7; J Lennon 8, P Purcell 7; A Dunphy 8, M Kavanagh 9, S Maher 6; W Dunphy 6, C Dwyer 7, R King 7. Subs: S Bergin 7 for Kavanagh (BS 44-48), S Bergin for King (48), E Lyons 8 for Maher (55), N Foyle 7 for Dwyer (59), J Phelan for Kelly (71).
Westmeath - C Lynch 7; D Egerton 7, T Doyle 7, G Greville 7; L Varley 6, A Clarke 8, P Greville 7; S Clavin 7, J Gilligan 6; J Boyle 6, K Doyle 8, C Boyle 7; A Devine 6, D Clinton 7, R Greville 6. Subs: E Price 7 for Gilligan (33), D McNicholas 7 for Clinton (HT), C Doyle 7 for Boyle (53), D O'Reilly for Devine (66), A Craig for Greville (70).
Ref - C Cunning (Antrim).