ANTRIM advanced through their All-Ireland SHC qualifier with Westmeath at Casement Park on Saturday night but the game was not as comfortable as the final score line would suggest.
It took impressive opening and ending spells from the hosts to claim victory against a Leinster side that looked sharp in patches but were always playing catch up after a poor opening quarter.
At that stage Antrim had raced into a 1-10 to 1-1 lead against the wind with Conor McCann striking the winner’s goal in the eighth minute and Paul Greville netting for Westmeath with an angled shot on 11 minutes.
By the break, the home side were 2-16 to 1-9 clear with McCann getting his second goal in the 31st minute.
“We didn’t play well at all in the first-half and it cost us dearly,” reflected Westmeath manager Brian Hanley.
“The stats don’t lie. We didn’t win enough possession and breaks during the first-half and that killed us. When we upped our game in the second-half we were a step ahead of them (Antrim) and the game would have been there for us if we had put in any effort and worked harder before the break.”
The visitors put in a fine display after the restart with sharpshooter Brendan Murtagh on form as they stormed into the action and closed the gap to just three points by the 46th minute.
Then came what Antrim’s star man Neil McManus described as the turning point.
“At that stage it was anybody’s game but up stepped Cormac Donnelly to put over a free from more than 100 yards. That certainly was to be the turning point as we never looked back from there. Westmeath came at us after the break but we pushed on after Cormac scored that massive point,” recalled McManus who landed 10 points himself.
Donnelly’s cracker gave the home side a 2-18 to 1-17 lead and the Midlanders were confined to just two more points during the closing 26 minutes with the winners rifling over seven for a deserved victory and a second round tie with Carlow, at Casement Park, next weekend.
“We can now look forward to that Carlow game and every time you play a match you learn something from it,” said Antrim manager Dinny Cahill. “I wasn’t happy with our display during the first 20 minutes of the second-half. I was disappointed with the way that we approached the game after leading by 10 points at the break. However, I was very pleased with the way that Conor McCann took his two goals — he’s a good player. We knew that Westmeath weren’t going to lie down and accept defeat without a struggle. They played very well against Galway. We played the first-half today the way we played against Wexford but we have got to be more clinical. But that’s all part of the learning process. We had a very young forward division out there and there were some very good points scored. There is a good spirit in the team.
“Now it is all about preparing for next week’s game. It will be different. There are parts of our game that we will have to work on, particularly on the way we approached the start of the second-half today.”
ANTRIM: C O’Connell; C McGuinness, C Donnelly (0-1f), K McGourty; A Graffin (0-1), M Herron, N McAuley; P Shiels (0-3), C Herron (0-1); S McCrory (0-2), K Stewart (0-2), N McManus (0-10, 8f); C McCann (2-1), D Hamill (0-2), J Black.
Subs: K Molloy for C Herron (49), C McFall (0-1f) for Black (54), B McFall (0-1) for M Herron (66), J McCouaig for McGourty (69).
WESTMEATH: C Scally; C Flanagan, D McCormack, A McGrath; E Price, A Mitchell, P Gilsenan; P Dowdall (0-3), B Smyth; C Curley (0-1), P Grenville (1-0), B Murtagh (0-10, 5f, 1SL); J Shaw (0-2), D McNicholas (0-3), D Carty.
Subs: A Price for McGrath (half-time), A Devine for Carty (43), K Martin for McCormack (54).
Referee: T Carroll (Offaly).
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