By Declan Rooney
Eoin Price shone for Westmeath as they picked up a mighty impressive round robin victory over Offaly in the Leinster SHC at Cusack Park.
Midfielder Price hit 1-5, while Niall O’Brien shot seven points and Derek McNicholas got their other goal – Paddy Murphy scored the consolation for Offaly.
Next up for Westmeath is a trip to Kerry in the second round of games, while Offaly will look to pick up the pieces at home to Carlow next Saturday.
Wins over Wexford and Laois were enough to secure Offaly their place in the Division 1 quarter-finals, before they lost to Kilkenny.
But that hammering at the hands of Kilkenny, and defeats to Clare, Limerick and Kerry painted the picture of where this Offaly side are at.
Westmeath did the hard work in the first-half and they led 1-9 to 0-7 at half-time even though they played into the breeze.
Shane Dooley, passed a late fitness test for Offaly, and he pointed an early free. Sean Ryan then put Offaly 0-2 to 0-1 in front but Westmeath took control.
Offaly suffered a dismal 6-20 to 0-14 hammering at the hands of Kilkenny and their full-back line began to look shaky. McNicholas blasted a goal in the tenth minute and from there on Westmeath grew in confidence and hit three points in a row from Price, O’Brien and Alan Devine.
Shane Kinsella stopped the rot, but Westmeath were in the ascendency and Darragh Egerton, a star in last year’s minor side, hit a point and when Liam Varley scored his first they led 1-9 to 0-4 after half-an-hour.
Offaly hit the last three points of the half, but coming out against the elements in the second-half they needed to start well. However they didn’t and instead Westmeath hit five consecutive points.
Joe Bergin scored a free, but Offaly needed a goal and Eoin Price’s second point put Westmeath 1-18 to 0-8 in front with 21 minutes left.
Murphy scored the first goal conceded by Westmeath this year, in the 54th minute, and Offaly momentarily looked set to launch a remarkable comeback. But it was too late and Westmeath steadied the ship with Price’s late goal.
Westmeath: E Price 1-5, N O’Brien 0-7 (5f), D McNicholas 1-2, C Boyle 0-3, L Varley 0-2, D Egerton 0-1, A Devine 0-1, D Clinton 0-1.
Offaly: P Murphy 1-1, S Dooley 0-3 (3f), S Ryan 0-2, S Kinsella 0-2, K Kiely 0-2, J Bergin 0-1 (1f).
Westmeath: P Maloney; S Power, T Doyle, T Gallagher (A McGrath 70); A Craig, A Clarke, G Greville; C Boyle (J Galvin 71), R Greville; A Devine (N Mitchell 63), N O’Brien, E Price; L Varley (D Clinton 60), D McNicholas, D Egerton (B Murtagh 68).
Offaly: J Dempsey; D Mooney, C McDonald, P Rigney; S Ryan (K Connolly 60), D Kelleher (D Shortt 52), P Camon; P Murphy, S Kinsella; C Egan, S Dooley (P Guinan 35), J Mulrooney (K Kiely 28); K Connolly (D King 52), J Bergin, B Conneely (S Cleary 35).
Referee: Sean Cleere (Kilkenny).