Purcell hat-trick puts Laois in pole position
Laois 3-25 Meath 2-13
Managers are often reluctant to single out any player after a game, but it was impossible for Laois boss Eamonn Kelly not to recognise the "phenomenal" display of midfielder Patrick Purcell after he hit 3-6 from play as Meath were ruthlessly disposed of in Páirc Tailteann yesterday.
Sometimes everything clicks and a player can do no wrong and Purcell certainly had one of those days as the Rathdowney-Errill powerhouse bagged a first-half hat-trick to put the O'Moore men out of sight by the break.
The writing was on the wall in the early stages when Meath goalkeeper Shane McGann denied Purcell with a jaw-dropping save from close-range but the Royals were still in contention after the first quarter with the sides level at 0-5 apiece.
That quickly changed, however, when Purcell collected a pass from Neil Foyle to finish to the net in the 21st minute, followed six minutes later by a brilliant solo effort when he put the after-burners on to split the Meath defence, and again in the 34th minute with Foyle the playmaker once more as they surged into a 15-point lead at the break, 3-13 to 0-7.
While the Royals put up some second-half resistance with goals from substitute Neil Heffernan and Joey Keena, the damage was already done by Purcell, with Kelly describing his performance it as "one of the great midfield displays" he can remember.
"We don't individualise guys but if one man should be individualised it's Paddy Purcell, it's probably as good of a midfield display as I've seen in a long long time, if ever," said Kelly.
"It was phenomenal and I'm delighted for Paddy. He's the ultimate professional and we've been trying to hit that line in games, we went two games earlier this year without creating a goal chance which isn't acceptable and we're starting to come around, Paddy hit that space and it's difficult to defend."
It puts Laois in pole position in the round robin stages with four points, ahead of a trip to Kerry in a fortnight's time, where both sides will be vying for qualification to the Leinster SHC.
It came at a price, however, with London-based defender Cahir Healy hobbling off early on with a hamstring injury. "No other player at the top level is doing what Cahir's doing week after week coming over and back and training over there," Kelly said. "He puts up on the WhatsApp what training he's doing, Jesus this guy is incredible so hopefully he won't be out for too long."
For last year's Christy Ring Cup winners Meath it was a "wake-up call" after upsetting Kerry last weekend but they have everything to play for when they meet Westmeath in the final round and Royals boss Martin Ennis is confident that they can still qualify.
"It's not done by any manner of means," Ennis said. "It was probably always going to come down to the third game no matter what way the round robin went. It would be a big surprise for Meath to win three games in a round robin, let's be honest about it.
"That was the first bad performance we've had in 12 months. And nothing seemed to go right for us at all today.
"You can't give Laois that kind of room, that kind of a lead.
"We'll regroup Tuesday night and see what happens."
Scores were traded in the opening minutes with Meath sharpshooter Steven Clynch and Laois skipper Ross King on target but the visitors looked dangerous every time the ball went near Foyle with man-of-the-match Purcell always available for the overlap.
Scores came much easier for Laois, who hit 3-17 from play, and Purcell's first goal was the catalyst for a shift in play as they opened an eight-point lead, 1-10 to 0-5, before his second and third saw them power into an unassailable half-time lead.
Heffernan's introduction injected life into an ailing Meath attack and he hit the net on the resumption.
And despite Joey Keena's 54th minute rasper, Laois looked at their ease as the home side finished with 14 men, with Keith Keoghan dismissed for a second yellow on the hour mark.
SCORERS - Laois: P Purcell 3-6; R King 0-11 (7f, 1 '65); A Corby, N Foyle 0-2 each; W Dunphy, A Dunphy, B Conroy, S Downey. 0-1.
Meath: S Clynch 0-6 (5f); N Heffernan 1-1; J Keena 1-0; S Quigley, M O'Sullivan, A Gannon, A Forde, K Keoghan, S Brennan 0-1.
LAOIS - E Rowland 8; D Palmer 7, C Healy 5, L Bergin 7; L Cleere 7, C Collier 7, M Whelan 6; R King 8, P Purcell 9; S Maher 6, C Dwyer 8, S Downey 6; N Foyle 8, P Whelan 6, W Dunphy 6. Subs: B Conroy 7 for Healy inj (14), A Dunphy 7 for P Whelan (48), A Corby 7 for Foyle (60), E Killeen for Dwyer (63), S Bergin for Maher (67).
MEATH - S McGann 7; S Whitty 6, S Brennan 7, C Reilly 6; S Geraghty 7, K Keoghan 6, D Kelly 6; A Forde 7, J Keena 7; S Quigley 6, S Clynch 6, J Kelly 6; G McGowan 6, M O'Sullivan 7, A Gannon 6. Subs: N Heffernan 7 for Quigley and K Keena 6 for McGowan (half-time), C McCabe 6 for J Kelly (59), P Farrell 6 for Clynch (60), R Reilly for O'Sullivan (65).
REF - J Keenan (Wicklow).