Laois's Stephen Maher holds off Westmeath in Mullingar
Laois 1-15 Westmeath 1-9
Hot favourites Laois were pushed all the way by Westmeath before emerging by a flattering six-point margin in a generally poor standard round-robin game in Mullingar.
On the back of an outstanding display in the National League quarter-final against Clare, Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett's men were expected to win their opening contest in this mini-championship with a bit to spare against a side who had lost a week earlier to Antrim.
However, the home team deservedly led at the end of a scrappy first half by 1-5 to 0-5. The only goal came in added-time from a long-range free by Derek McNicholas, the ball going into the net via a Laois defender's hand.
The sides traded four points in the third quarter, the best of them a great score by McNicholas, leaving Westmeath still in the driving seat, when Neil Foyle teed up Stephen Maher in the 52nd minute to drill home the equalising goal from 25 metres.
Willie Hyland was very much to the fore in the second half and he quickly added a brace of fine points. Tommy Fitzgerald's great score opened up a three-point gap and the visitors always looked the likely winners from then on.
Brian Hanley's charges continued to hurl with great spirit, but a number of late attempts to find the net proved unsuccessful, allowing Laois to close out the game with well-taken points from Foyle and Whelan.
SCORERS – Laois: S Maher 1-4 (0-3fs), W Hyland 0-5, M Whelan (f), N Foyle, R King, T Fitzgerald, C Dwyer, J Campion 0-1 each. Westmeath: D McNicholas 1-1 (1-0f), R Greville 0-3, C Curley, D Gavin, N Conaty, N O'Brien, A Clarke 0-1 each.
LAOIS – E Reilly; D Maher, B Campion, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, C Dunne; D Palmer, P Whelan; J Purcell, W Hyland, S Maher; N Foyle, T Fitzgerald, R King. Subs: C Dwyer for Purcell (25), JA Delaney for Stapleton (h-t, inj.), J Campion for Dunne (45), B Reddin for King (49), J Brophy for Reddin (67).
WESTMEATH – P Collins; K Duncan, T Doyle, L Varley; G Greville, A Craig, P Gilsenan; C Curley, E Price; R Greville, A Devine, D Gavin; N Conaty, D McNicholas, N O'Brien. Sub: A Clarke for Craig (39, inj.).
REF – C Browne (Galway).