Exiles rue wides as Westmeath claim spot in next hurling qualifier

Westmeath 1-15 London 0-11
Derek McNicholas fired 11 points as Westmeath dug deep to claim a seven-point win over London in Ruislip.

The Lough Lene Gaels forward delivered for the Lake County, in a game which saw a 51st minute goal swing the game in the visitors favour.

Brian Hanley's charges were forced to dig deep in London's first ever All-Ireland Senior Hurling qualifier, with the hosts held to just two points in the closing 26 minutes, as Westmeath took control.

Cork's Martin Finn bagged three first half points, with scores also from Laois's John Walsh; Kilkenny's PJ Rowe and Limerick's Donal Reale, as London led by 0-7 to 0-6 at the break.

However, the Exiles fired 12 wides before the interval and this ultimately came back to haunt them.

London outscored Westmeath by two points to one in the opening nine minutes of the second half, but the visitors responded in style with 1-4 without reply between the 47th and 62nd minutes, including Murtagh's goal.

Westmeath lost Paul Fennell to a second yellow card near the end, but it mattered little as they held out for victory.

Brian Hanley started with the team named midweek, but for the hosts there were a number of changes to the starting line-up.

Kilkenny native Brian Healy replaced Brian Moroney in defence, with three switches also in attack with David Maher, Tony Dunne and Martin Finn introduced and Luke Hands, Gerard Hennelly and Martin Duggan making way.

The visitors opened in perfect fashion with a kicked effort from Derek McNicholas after just a minute, the first of three points from the Lough Lene Gaels clubman in the opening 35 minutes.

Scores were at a premium in the first quarter, but despite London equalising in the third minute through Rowe, the hosts suddenly became wasteful in front of the posts.

It took almost 10 minutes for another score to be produced as both teams failed to add to their account. The Exiles particularly guilty of missed opportunities.

London struggled to follow up on Rowe's equaliser with a score that would see them take the lead, with four attacks between the fifth and eighth minutes each resulting in a wide.

Finn, Stephen Lambert and Henry Vaughan with those misses, while Eoin Price and John Shaw were also guilty of wides for the visitors.

A total of seven scoring chances went amiss in a six minute spell, with Limerick native Donie Reale eventually breaking the scoring dead-lock with a fine strike in the 13th minute.

London brought their wides tally to eight by the end of the first quarter, but an excellent effort from captain John Walsh settled matters and put them 0-03 to 0-01 ahead by the 18th minute.

Robbie Greville claimed Westmeath's first score in 19 minutes, after a well placed ball from his fellow Raharney clubman Shaw as Westmeath began to gain a foothold.

Stephen Lambert edged London two points ahead once more, but Westmeath now showed a greater energy and through everything at the Exiles defence.

McNicholas was clinical from play and dead-ball situations, while a John Shaw point pushed Westmeath ahead by 0-05 to 0-04 in the 28th minute.

London stormed back, with Eamon Phelan's side taking control once more in the midfield sector.

Lambert shot wide, before a brace of Finn pointed frees edged London ahead once more.

Greville levelled matters with his second point, but a third points free from Finn edged London to a 0-07 to 0-06 interval lead.

The introduction of Stephen Frawley in place of Tony Dunne aimed to boost the London attack, but there were signs yet again that missed opportunities would come back to haunt the hosts.

Finn fired London's 13th wide, two and a half minutes after the restart, and although his side bagged two of the first three points of the second half, including one from Finn, Westmeath were set to take control.

Murtagh and McNicholas were central to this revival upfront, but in defence Westmeath also performed strongly.

Liam Varley, Tommy Gallagher, Paul and David Fennell, Alan McGrath and Adam Price; all found themselves under huge pressure, but delivered superbly.

It was a long-range McGrath free which helped to deliver the only goal of the contest, with Murtagh pouncing and slicing the ball to the net to hand Westmeath a 1-09 to 0-09 advantage.

From this the Midlanders never looked back, with McNicholas showing well from dead-ball situations.

A brace of points from the half-forward pushed Westmeath to a five-point lead with eight minutes remaining.

London pegged a point back through substitute Martin Duggan, but Westmeath finished strongly, with McNicholas ending the tie with 11 points to his credit.

Westmeath lost defender Paul Fennell through a second yellow card late on, but it mattered little as the Midlanders had already firmly booked their passage to the next round.

WESTMEATH: P Collins; L Varley, T Gallagher, P Fennell; D Fennell, A McGrath, A Price; E Price, J Clarke; B Murtagh (1-1), A Craig, D McNicholas (0-11, 7f); N O'Brien, R Greville (0-2), J Shaw (0-1). Subs: T Egan for Varley (41); A Clarke for Craig (45); S Power for J Clarke (66); B O'Meara for Shaw (68).

LONDON: D Russell; C McAlinden, B Costelloe, D Healy; B Healy, B Regan, J Walsh (0-1); PJ Rowe (0-1), H Vaughan; S Lambert (0-1), J Maher, D Maher; T Dunne, M Finn (0-5, 5f), D Reale (0-2). Subs: S Frawley for Dunne (HT); L Hands for D Maher (39); M Duggan (0-1) for Rowe (60); E Cooney for Vaughan (68).

REFEREE: Colm Lyons (Cork)

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