By Declan Rooney
Limerick 1-24 Westmeath 0-18
Limerick needed a strong second-half display to finally shake off Westmeath and reach the second round of the hurling qualifiers at Cusack Park.
Graeme Mulcahy’s goal and 14 points from Shane Dowling proved crucial for TJ Ryan’s side who had Seanie O’Brien sent off five minutes before the interval.
And just like happened to Limerick against Tipperary in this year’s Munster championship, the team with the numerical advantage fell away in the second half as Dowling pointed ten after the break to seal the spot in the draw for Limerick.
Brendan Murtagh crucially missed a penalty early in the second-half and Limerick pushed on after that.
Limerick claimed a massive 12-point win when these sides met in the opening round of the qualifiers at the same stage last year.
After their disappointing semi-final exit in the Munster championship at the hands of Tipperary, Limerick needed to bounce back against a resurgent Westmeath.
But the home side only led 0-13 to 1-9 at half-time despite playing with a stiff breeze in the first-half.
Limerick captain Nickie Quaid chose to play into the win in the opening half, but they were unstoppable early in the game, Kevin Downes got their first point after 11 seconds, and they went on to take a 0-6 to 0-1 lead after ten minutes.
Niall O’Brien opened Westmeath’s account in the sixth minute, but Shane Dowling scored three points, and with two from Declan Hannon Limerick were in charge.
Clarke ended the scoring drought for Westmeath, and they followed that up with five point in a row to take the lead for the first time, in the 22nd minute.
That was Niall O’Brien’s fifth point of the half, but Limerick hit back, and after Hannon and Dowling got a point each, Mulcahy scored the goal in the 26th minute.
Limerick should have pushed on from there, but Westmeath continued to take the fight with Niall O’Brien unerring from the placed-ball.
Seanie O’Brien got a straight red for an off the ball incident in the 30th minute and Westmeath scored three of the last four points in the half with Aonghus Clarke and Clarke’s point just before half-time, gave them a 0-13 to 1-9 lead at the break.
But after playing with the breeze at their backs in the first-half and not building up a sufficient lead, Westmeath needed to score first.
Limerick hit the first two points, and when Murtagh failed to convert a 49th minute penalty Westmeath’s chances faded.
Dowling and O’Brien continued their personal battle, but Limerick always had the edge and could have stretched clear had Maloney not performed more heroics in the Westmeath goal.
Scorers: Limerick: S Dowling 0-14 (0-10f, 0-2 ’65), D Hannon 0-3, G Mulcahy 1-0, K Downes 0-3, J Ryan 0-1, D O’Donovan 0-1, P Browne 0-1, D Reidy 0-1.
Westmeath: N O’Brien 0-11 (0-8f, 0-1 sl), A Clarke 0-2, B Murtagh 0-2 (0-1f), A Craig 0-1, A Devine 0-1, C Boyle 0-1.
Limerick: N Quaid; S O’Brien, D Morrissey, R English; D Byrnes, G O'Mahony, P O’Brien; J Ryan, D O’Donovan; B Nash, D Hannon, P Browne; K Downes, S Dowling, G Mulcahy.
Subs: G Hegarty for Nash (50), R McCarthy for D Morrissey (59), D Reidy for Hannon (59), A Dempsey for Ryan (63), T Condon for English (66).
Westmeath: P Maloney; C Shaw, T Doyle, T Gallagher; A Craig, A Clarke, A McGrath; C Boyle, E Price; N O'Brien, B Murtagh, A Devine; D Egerton, D McNicholas, N Mitchell.
Subs: R Greville for McNicholas (47), L Varley for McGrath (49), K Doyle for Mitchell (55), G Greville for Shaw (69).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway).