Westmeath 5-24 Laois 1-18
What a win for Westmeath hurlers, but what a let-down too, for the structure of the Leinster and All-Ireland championship which means Joe Fortune’s brave team are now done and dusted for the year.
Westmeath’s stickmen were superb in Portlaoise, putting the home team to the sword to ensure that they stay at the elite level for 2023.
They played with such skill and elan that you would think they would crave more matches against the best teams, but that is not to be.
They are done for the year and instead will have to watch two Joe McDonagh teams, Antrim and Kerry, get at least two more games this year.
Tommy Doyle, Westmeath’s wing-back and one of the best hurlers you have probably never heard of, was not too worried about the fact that this was the last time he would wear the maroon shirt this year.
“Look, I go back to my club now, Lough Lene Gaels, and we play our championship and that’s it. We’ve achieved our objective with Westmeath, that was to stay in the Leinster Championship for next year,” he said.
“We showed great character at bad times through the year, when we’d poor results in the league, then we came out and were really competitive in all our five matches except the Galway one. So we’re very happy with that, and with staying up. That was what we were aiming for all year.”
Westmeath’s hero in this victory was Niall Mitchell, a towering forward moved right on top of the edge of the Laois square by his manager Joe Fortune at half-time, when Westmeath were about to enjoy the advantage of a stiff breeze.
They poured ball down on top of Mitchell and he won it regularly, scoring two goals himself and laying off the sliotar for Niall O’Brien and Eoin Keyes to get two more.
They were the key scores in the 18-point victory as Westmeath hurled crisply and with vision all through the match, even against the elements in the first half.
Their players were always looking for a colleague in space and they trusted each other to deliver 50- or 60-metre passes off the sliotar to hand.
For Laois, there is nothing left to do but hope Kerry win the Joe McDonagh Cup final next weekend if they are to be a Leinster side in the Liam MacCarthy Cup next year. If Antrim win the final, Laois are relegated.
And they can have no complaints if it happens, as they finished the round-robin with a score difference of minus 92.
Yes, Laois have had injuries and a few of the top hurlers in the county did not commit to the cause this year.
But their first match against Dublin was the only time they did not end up on the wrong end of a right spanking on the scoreboard this year.
Maybe a year in the McDonagh Cup might help them regroup and come again.
Laois have been well off the pace this season and more hammerings in the Leinster Championship next year are not likely to help promote the team or the game within the county.
SCORERS – Westmeath: K Doyle 0-8 (4f); E Keyes 2-1; N Mitchell 2-0; N O’Brien 1-3; J Boyle 0-4; D Glennon 0-3; J Galvin 0-2; C Boyle, J Gillen, A Craig 0-1 each. Laois: R King 0-7 (4f); E Rowland 0-4 (4f); P Purcell 1-1; J Keyes, B Conroy 0-2 each; C Dwyer, P Dunne 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH – N Conaty 6; J Galvin 7, C Shaw 6, D Egerton 6; R Greville 6, A Craig 7, T Doyle 8; C Boyle 6, A Clarke 7; D Glennon 7, E Keyes 9, N O’Brien 8; N Mitchell 9, J Boyle 8, K Doyle 9. Subs: D. McNicholas 6 for O’Brien (57), K Regan 6 for C Boyle (63), S McGovern for Greville (66) J Gillen for Keyes (68).
LAOIS – E Rowland 8; P Dunne 6, S Downey 7, D Hartnett 7; R Mullaney 6, C McEvoy 6, F Fennell 5; J Kelly 5, L O’Connell 5; P Purcell 7, C Dwyer 6, J Keyes 7; B Conroy 7, R King 6, S Maher 5. Subs: A Corby 5 for Dunne (h-t) PJ Scully 6 for Maher (55), T Keyes 5 for Kelly (55), W Dunphy 5 for Conroy (57), E Killeen 5 for Mullaney (57).
Ref – C Cunning (Antrim)