Westmeath hurlers put themselves back in the promotion frame with a excellent win over Laois last Monday - and they aim to build on that boost against Wicklow this Sunday (Arklow, 12.45pm).
The clash with Wicklow will now take place in Arklow rather than Aughrim which was originally listed as the venue.
A late goal from former Moate CS student Niall O’Brien ensured that Westmeath Gaels had two reasons to celebrate on Bank Holiday Monday - as Westmeath's Allianz HL promotion hopes were revitalised thanks to a satisfying 2-18 to 2-15 win over league favourites Laois.
With the footballers also winning in Wexford Park, it was a day to remember for the Lake County.
Post match, Westmeath hurling gaffer Brian Hanley was keen to keep his charges’ feet firmly on the ground - but for the small band of home supporters who turned up at Cusack Park on Monday, this will go down as one of the county’s greatest hurling results in recent years.
A freetaking masterclass from Derek McNicholas, coupled with a memorable display from captain Eoin Price, left visitors Laois in awe, even before they were reduced to 14 men late on.
Westmeath welcomed back Clonkill duo Brendan Murtagh and Adam Price to a side missing the injured Castletown-Geoghegan brothers Joe and Aonghus Clarke, forcing some late changes to the starting line-up.
After putting up a spirited first half battle, the hosts trailed only 0-9 to 0-7 at the break, though a soft goal after the restart prompted a pessimistic groan from the small attendance.
But the remainder of the half was a lesson in fortitude, as McNicholas, skipper Price and O’Brien helped the Maroons bounce back, and bounce back again, to carve out the right result.
Westmeath: D McNicholas 0-12 (8f, 2 '65s’), N O’Brien 1-2 (0-1f), E Price 1-1, J Shaw 0-2, B Murtagh 0-1. Laois: T Fitzgerald and C Dwyer 1-0 each, M Whelan 0-5 (frees), S Maher 0-4 (1f), W Hyland 0-2, J Fitzpatrick (free), N Foyle, B Dunne and P J Scully 0-1 each.
Peter Collins; Tommy Gallagher, Adam Price, Mark Keegan; David Fennell, Conor Jordan, Philip Gilsenan; Shane Power, Eoin Price (capt.); Derek McNicholas, Alan McGrath, Robbie Greville; Niall O’Brien, Brendan Murtagh, John Shaw. Sub used: Paul Fennell for Keegan (49).
Eoin Reilly; Brian Stapleton, Brian Campion, John A Delaney; Joe Fitzpatrick, Matthew Whelan, Gearóid Burke; James Walsh, Brian Dunne; Stephen Maher, Cahir Healy, Willie Hyland; John Brophy, Tommy Fitzgerald, Neil Foyle. Subs used: Charlie Dwyer for B Dunne (h/t), Conor Dunne for Brophy (61), P J Scully for Maher (67).
Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow).
IN A NUTSHELL
Man of the match
Eoin Price (Westmeath). The ruthlessly accurate Derek McNicholas was a close second, but Price edged it for his all-round play. The Clonkill man was everywhere over the course of the 70 minutes, drifting in and out of defence and attack, masterminding moves, clearing dangerous balls, and chipping in with 1-1.
The key moment
Laois will argue that it was James Walsh’s dismissal which turned their fortunes, but really the turning point came before that. The visitors should have buried Westmeath after their first goal, but a good passage of team play, garnished by some tremendous freetaking from Derek McNicholas, crucially kept the Lake County in touch.