WESTMEATH were overwhelmed by Waterford at this All-Ireland hurling qualifier at Cusack Park, Mullingar yesterday in a victory every bit as decisive as the 14-point winning margin would suggest.
There was nothing spectacular about the Waterford display but, once Ken McGrath’s prodigious free from deep inside his own half went all the way to the Westmeath net in the 22nd minute, the game was effectively over.
Another goal three minutes later, this time by John Mullane, stretched the Waterford lead to 13 points (2-11 to 0-4) and only their margin of victory remained to be determined.
However, if there is a cause for Waterford concern, it will be that they were matched on the scoreboard in the second half by Westmeath; clearly many of the Waterford players believed that by half time the game was done and dusted. However, there was just a brief flurry of concern for the winners when Brendan Murtagh crashed a 20 metre free to the net in the 49th minute to narrow the deficit to 11 points. Three rapid-fire points in reply, two of them by man-of-the-match Dave Bennett, ended Westmeath hopes, and Dan Shanahan provided the perfect finale with a third goal in added time after great work by Bennett and Mullane.
Eight minutes earlier second-half Waterford substitute Jack Kennedy was dismissed on a second yellow card. “It wasn’t a perfect display but I’m pleased overall,” said Waterford manager Justin McCarthy. “Westmeath to their great credit battled very hard right to the end and I was impressed with them. They have improved a lot over the last year or two.”
McCarthy said the game was an important work-out for his charges ahead of their vital clash with Galway on Sunday week.
“After our loss to Tipp its good to get to winning ways,” he said.
Westmeath led just once, and briefly, with lively full-forward Daniel Carty pointing inside a minute. Bennett gave an inkling of what was to come when he levelled from a 50 metre free and pointed from play in the 3rd minute to give Waterford a lead they never again surrendered.
With Bennett and the magnificent Ken McGrath totally dominant at midfield the supply of ball to the attack was constant. The forwards seemed satisfied to pick off long range points rather than go for goals.
Despite the hopelessness of their cause Westmeath battled all through the second half with wing-back John Shaw leading by example. Shaw was brilliant throughout and deserved better than to end up on the losing side.
They could consider themselves unlucky to have Brendan Murtagh’s goal ruled out for a square infringement within five minutes of the restart. However, there was no question of illegality about Murtagh’s goal strike in the 49th minute.
Scorers: Waterford: D. Bennett (0-7, 0-5 f)); K. McGrath (1-3, 1-1 f)); J. Mullane (1-2); D. Shanahan (1-2); S. O’Sullivan (0-3); E. McGrath (0-2); T. Browne, M. Walsh and J. Kennedy (0-1 each). Westmeath: J. Shaw (0-5, 0-2 f) B. Murtagh (1-1); D. Carty (0-3); A. Mitchell(0-2, f); E. Loughlin, B. Kennedy and D. McNicholas (0-1 each).
WATERFORD: C. Hennessy; E. Murphy. T. Feeney. D. Coffey; T. Browne. J. Murray. B. Phelan; K. McGrath. D. Bennett; D. Shanahan. S. Prendergast. S. O’Sullivan; J. Mullane. M. Walsh. E. McGrath.
Subs: J. Kennedy for Prendergast (half time); D. Prendergast for Phelan (47 mins); A. Kearney for Coffey (59 mins); P. O’Brien for O’Sullivan (61 mins); K. Moran for Browne (65 mins).
WESTMEATH: M. Briody; C. Jordan. C. Murtagh. P. Greville; J. Shaw. D. McCormack. N. Gavin; G. Gavin. E. McLoughlin; D. Devine. B. Murtagh. A. Mitchell; B. Kennedy. D. Carty. J. Clarke.
Subs: D. McNicholas for Devine; P. Gilsenan for Mitchell (38 mins); J. P. Murray for Gavin (62 mins); D. Faulkner for Clarke (65 mins).
Referee: E. Morris, Dublin.