Lakes and Laois look almost inseparable
Twelve months ago, at the same venue of Bord na Móna O'Connor Park, Laois turned on the second-half turbo and left a hapless Westmeath for dead, 4-13 to 1-12. A proper beating. No room for argument.
Then how come these familiar foes are almost inseparable in the betting for tomorrow's Leinster quarter-final rematch?
Several reasons but we'll start with the two most relevant. When they met in Mullingar last February, the hosts prevailed by 0-13 to 0-10. And when they met again in April, for the Division 3 final in Croke Park, Westmeath once more took the spoils, 1-13 to 0-13.
Two matches, two three-point wins. You might reasonably argue that on the yardstick of recent form, Westmeath warrant the mantle/millstone of favouritism - but, in truth, this is the ultimate coin toss.
Leaving aside the above results, Laois can point to the relative consistency of John Sugrue's first 18 months in charge. The Kerry native has brought respectability, and more, back to the O'Moores. They've won back-to-back promotions and reached a Leinster final.
They also know where they went wrong in that recent league final: they 'won' the wide count 15-6, and so you can be sure that Sugrue has paid particular training-ground attention to their shot selection and finishing. Not to mention those critical turnovers, such as the fatal pass by wandering 'keeper Graham Brody that led directly to Ger Egan's all-important goal last month.
As Sugrue remarked that night: "We need more clarity of thought, we need more concentration and we need to execute better, full stop."
Egan was central to Westmeath's league final win, shooting a brilliant 1-7, just as he was pivotal to their entire promotion march: his spring haul of 3-50 made him the league's top scorer across all four divisions.
Egan has been carrying a knock recently and it's hard to conceive Westmeath winning without him (or even at half-pelt). However, the official word is that he has trained fine this week and is named on the team - as is midfielder Sam Duncan, despite rumours of an injury. The mercurial Luke Loughlin, who started the league final, is listed in the subs.
On paper, the Laois squad looks to have more depth and if they can tidy up on their shooting, they could have one foot in the semis.
Yet you can't ignore the stark improvement in Westmeath under Jack Cooney - most notably in the tenacity and touch-tight marking of their defence.
Skipper Kieran Martin and talisman John Heslin haven't hit their very best form of late. If they deliver, that might edge it.
WESTMEATH: E Carberry; K Maguire, R Wallace, B Sayeh; K Daly, N Mulligan, J Dolan; S Duncan, D Corroon; D Lynch, J Heslin, C McCormack; R O'Toole, K Martin, G Egan.
ODDS: Westmeath 5/4 Draw 7/1 Laois 10/11
LEINSTER SFC Q-FINAL
WESTMEATH v LAOIS
Tullamore (Tomorrow, 2.0)