Allianz HL D1 play-off: Westmeath win thriller
Allianz Hurling League Division One Relegation Play-Off
Westmeath 3-24 Laois 1-26
By Gerry Buckley at FBD Semple Stadium
A 63rd-minute goal from substitute 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 FBD Semple Stadium.
Scores came thick and fast right from the first whistle, with Willie Maher's charges looking marginally the livelier team in the early exchanges.
Three points from Stephen Maher (including two frees) helped them to a 0-8 to 0-3 lead by the 12th minute. Points from Ciaran Doyle and Joey Boyle reduced the deficit before the same duo combined for Boyle to flick the ball one-handed to the net for an equalising goal in the 14th minute.
Laois responded with points from Maher (a free), James Keyes, and Aaron Dunphy. The sides were level again (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.
Unanswered points from Maher (a free), Keyes, and
Jack Kelly tied up the scoring yet again, but Ciaran 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 Maher (two) shared the first five points of the second half. Killian's twin brother Ciaran pounced for the first score from play in the half in the 44th minute.
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 Eoin Keyes powering forward and unleashing a great low shot to the net.
With Killian Doyle off injured, sub Darragh Clinton slotted over a crucial free in the 70th minute to put his side 3-21 to 0-26 ahead. 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.
Scorers for Westmeath: K Doyle 0-11 (8fs), 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.
Scorers for Laois: S Maher 0-8 (7fs), 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; D Egerton, C Shaw, J Bermingham; A Craig, T Doyle, J Galvin; S McGovern, R Greville; C Doyle, J Boyle, K Regan; D Glennon, K Doyle, N O'Brien.
Subs: E Keyes for Bermingham (23), P Clarke for Regan (52), S Clavin for C Doyle (inj., 63), D Clinton for O'Brien (66), D McNicholas for K Doyle (inj., 70).
Laois: E Rowland; FC Fennell, P Delaney, D Hartnett; R Mullaney, I Shanahan, P Lalor; P Purcell, J Kelly; A Dunphy, S Maher, T Keyes; M Phelan, J Keyes, S Bergin.
Subs: R King for Lalor (39), W Dunphy for Bergin (52), PJ Scully for T Keyes (61), J Duggan for Phelan (68).
Referee: S Stack (Dublin).