Westmeath shock lacklustre Dubs to set up date with Kilkenny

THE first match of the 2006 Leinster senior hurling championship and the first shock.

Having captured the NHL Division Two title in fine style a few weeks ago, Dublin were expected to dismiss the championship challenge of Westmeath yesterday. That didn’t happen, and Dublin can have no complaints.

Conditions were terrible but the reason for Westmeath’s success was due to an old fundamental — they wanted it more and they had the players to do it. That was a fact accepted with some grace by Dublin manager Tommy Naughton. “It was the referee’s decision to play the game and it was the same pitch for both sides. Westmeath were hungrier, they wanted to win.”

Remember, this is a Westmeath team with a bit of decent recent history, a team that won last year’s Christy Ring cup in fine style. They’re not world-beaters, and didn’t have a very good League campaign, but they are most certainly good enough to compete in this company.”

To have their chances dismissed coming into this one then, was an incentive.

“We don’t want to be minnows, we don’t want to be put down by people and we felt that was what happened coming into this championship,” said delighted winning manager Seamus Qualter. “It hurt us a bit and it stung us into that performance today.”

With the considerable assistance of the elements, Dublin had a good start and led 0-5 to 0-1 after 15 minutes. Three of those points came from free-taker David Curtin, the others from midfielder David Sweeney and raiding wing-back Michael Carton. Point by point, however, Westmeath battled back. Wing-forward Andrew Mitchell was their ace with three superb strikes from placed balls, and by half-time there was just three points in it (0-9 to 0-6).

Ominous for the Dubs, promising for the underdogs.

“We knew at half-time the result was in us, it was just a matter of bringing it out,” reckoned Qualter. “None of their forwards had scored from play in that first half, we knew we were better than them man for man. It was just a case of being more disciplined.”

That discipline paid off. Four frees was all Westmeath conceded in the second period inside their own half, with just one of those converted by Curtin. That was one of only two points Dublin managed after the break — centre-forward Liam Ryan the other man on target.

Westmeath by comparison, grew in confidence landing seven points, five from Mitchell as they ran out worthy winners.

“From one to 15 you could see it,” said Qualter. “We had heroes all over the field, we battled so hard. We have a good free-taker in Andrew Mitchell, a fantastic centre-back in Darren McCormack, Enda Loughlin did his bit. They fought like tigers all day long. Kevin Flynn (Dublin full-forward) caused problems the last time we met, so we put Paul Greville on him and he was fantastic.

“This is a huge breakthrough for us, it was a big challenge to win. We’ll have Kilkenny in Cusack Park now (Leinster semi-final) and we’ll come out and give a good account of ourselves. It will mean everything for Westmeath hurling to have Henry Shefflin and JJ Delaney coming to Cusack Park.”

For Naughton, Dublin having lost to Westmeath in the championship for only the second time in their history, opposite tune. “You have highs, you have lows, this is part of it, this is a test again for the team. We’re now in the qualifiers, just have to react to it. I have no complaints. Conditions were the same for both teams, and we wish them the very best.”

Scorers: Westmeath: A. Mitchell 0-8 (0-7 frees, 0-1 65); D. McNicholas 0-2; B. Kennedy, B. Murtagh, D. Carty, 0-1 each. Dublin: D. Curtin 0-7 (0-7 frees); M. Carton, J. McCaffrey, D. Sweeney, L. Ryan, 0-1 each.

WESTMEATH: M. Briody; C. Jordan, C. Murtagh, P. Greville; J. Shaw (c), D. McCormack, N. Gavin; B. Connaughton, E. Loughlin; G. Gavin, B. Murtagh, A. Mitchell; J. Clarke, D. McNicholas, B. Kennedy.

Subs: D. Carty (G. Gavin inj. 21).

DUBLIN: G. Maguire; P. Brennan, K. Ryan, T. Brady; T. Moore, R. Fallon, M. Carton; J. McCaffrey, D. Sweeney; S. McDonnell, L. Ryan, D. Curtin; K. Dunne, K. Flynn, S. Lehane. Subs: E. Moran (McDonnell 29); J. Kelly (Lehane 43); A. De Paor (McCaffrey 64); A. McCrabbe (Curtin 70).

Referee: J. Ryan (Tipperary).