FIRST-TIME volleys to the back of the net are not a common O'Byrne Cup event, but one such impudent strike helped to warm the soul on a frostbitten night in Portlaoise
The code-hopping goalscorer was Pádraig Clancy, the erstwhile midfielder reincarnated as a towering target man in recent seasons. Or, to give the Laois veteran his full title, Pádraig 'Messi' Clancy, the prolific inspiration -- with 2-3 from play -- behind last night's 2-12 to 0-12 victory over Westmeath.
"Maybe he wasn't expecting the ball to be passed to him, because Conor Meredith had a glorious opportunity to go for the goal himself," noted Laois manager Justin McNulty. "But Conor, being unselfish, gave it to the man in a slightly better position . . . and he finished it à la Messi!"
That 44th-minute volley was the pivotal score in a reasonably engaging Group C encounter, establishing a five-point daylight between the experienced home outfit and a more callow Westmeath selection.
To the visitors' credit, they promptly replied with three unanswered points and -- in the closing stages -- Kelvin Reilly threatened an equalising goal only for 'keeper Eoin Culliton to repel his 66th-minute piledriver.
Ross Munnelly then landed a nerve-steadying free to virtually seal victory even before Cahir Healy's attempted point dropped just under the crossbar for Clancy to fist home his second goal in the 70th minute.
Thus, having lost their opening group clash against Offaly, Laois could yet sneak an O'Byrne Cup semi-final place, depending on results next Sunday.
Westmeath fans may have travelled to O'Moore Park in optimism, buoyed by their weekend rout of Athlone IT, but spirits soon flagged on perusal of the heavily altered teamsheet.
No Dessie Dolan and no Denis Glennon, both carrying knocks. And, after eight minutes, no Callum McCormack either because of a tweaked hamstring.
Those three forwards, between them, amassed 1-17 against AIT. In their absence, it was left to some game rookies (notably Ciarán Curley and David McCormack) to carry the forward fight.
"They had a very experimental team out, the reverse of Sunday past," McNulty pointed out. "We had a more experienced unit together, so the result was almost inevitable even though they got a couple of goal chances at crucial times. But at the same time it's O'Byrne Cup, guys -- we're not going to get carried away."
Given the first half flow, and notwithstanding a Clancy point that looked suspiciously wide, Westmeath did well to finish the first half within a point (0-6 to 0-5). But on the restart, feeding off some inviting 'modh díreach' delivery, Clancy started to turn the screw on his highly vaunted marker, Kieran Gavin, kicking two more points before his 'Messi' moment. "Pádraig's hungry and very committed to the team this year. And for him to do that after so many years of service is a credit to the guy," McNulty enthused.
Losing boss Pat Flanagan wasn't too deflated: "I know we went down by six points, but we had an experimental team out and I think they stood up quite well to the challenge," he concluded.
O'BYRNE CUP GROUP C
LAOIS 2-12 WESTMEATH 0-12
SCORERS - Laois: P Clancy 2-3; MJ Tierney 0-4 (3f, 1 '45'); R Munnelly 0-2 (1f); J O'Loughlin, C Begley, C Healy 0-1 each. Westmeath: C Curley 0-4 (2f); K Reilly (1f), David McCormack 0-2 each; D Corroon, P Bannon (f), P Sheridan, Daly McCormack (f) 0-1 each.
LAOIS: E Culliton; C Healy, D Booth, P O'Leary; D Strong, J O'Loughlin, P McMahon; C Begley, C Coss; R Munnelly, C Meredith, B Sheehan; MJ Tierney, P Clancy, A Doran. Subs: C Delaney for Doran (ht), M Timmons for McMahon (54), S Julian for Coss (57), E Malone for Tierney (59).
WESTMEATH: G Connaughton; J Lynch, K Gavin, K Maguire; Damien Dolan, P Sharry, D Harte; D Corroon, P Bannon; K Reilly, C McCormack, P Sheridan; David McCormack, C Curley, D Mullen. Subs: R Foley for C McCormack (inj 8), M Curley for Sharry (48), Daly McCormack for Bannon (56), E Gorman for David McCormack (63).
WIDES -- Laois: 8 (5+3); Westmeath: 3 (1+2).
YELLOW CARDS -- Laois : 3 (O'Loughlin 35+2, Sheehan 37, O'Leary 47); Westmeath: 2 (Dolan 32, M Curley 67).
REF: A Nolan (Wicklow).
ATT: 400 (approx.)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Pádraig Clancy (Laois).