Saffrons push on with plenty to spare

WESTMEATH began in whirlwind fashion in Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC qualifier at Casement Park, but the storm died down as quickly as it began as Antrim pushed on to the next round.

In the opening two minutes, John Heslin snatched a point and James Dolan fired a cracking goal. But that was the end of the Midlanders’ scoring for 29 minutes, during which the Saffrons rifled over eight points.

Despite Westmeath’s packed defence, Gerard O’Boyle, Conor Murray, Brendan Herron, the excellent James Loughrey and Kevin Niblock notched up points from play while Tomás McCann tapped over free-kicks.

It was 0-8 to 1-1 after 29 minutes but points from Heslin (free) and dual player Brendan Murtagh, who went in as a sub, narrowed the gap at half-time. It was down to the minimum six minutes after the restart and again in the 47th and 51st minutes, but then Westmeath’s effort petered out.

The visitors scored only once more — a point from Dessie Dolan, who didn’t start the game because of hamstring trouble — as Antrim tagged on six points, two from 45s by Tomás McCann. The home defence also performed some excellent blocks while at the other end Gary Connaughton brought off a super save from Aodhan Gallagher.

“That’s our first championship win in two years,” reflected winning manager Liam Bradley, “but we made it a little hard for ourselves. We had two goal chances and missed both. Still, we were, by far, the better team and we played some good football.

“We had a foothold around midfield for most of the game but we couldn’t make the ball stick up front.

“The only negative side of the game is that Michael McCann came off with a hamstring injury and will be out for five to six weeks.”

Was Bradley glad that his team answered the critics after the defeat by Donegal? “I’m not worried about the critics,” he insisted. “I listened to radio last weekend and a certain guy said he feared for Fermanagh, Antrim and Cavan in the qualifiers — I don’t think we are in the same bracket as Fermanagh and Cavan.

“I am disappointed at comments like that and people should know better. We are not a bad side.”

Westmeath manager Flanagan was, obviously, disappointed at the result.

“We came up with high hopes of turning things around after the Wexford game, especially after the league displays that got us promotion from Division Three. The lads have worked very hard over the past eight months.”

Scorers for Antrim: T McCann 0-4 (2f, 2 45s), G O’Boyle 0-3 (2f), J Loughrey, T Scullion, B Herron 0-2 each, C Murray, K Niblock, P Cunningham 0-1 each.

Scorers for Westmeath: J Heslin 0-4 (3f), J Dolan 1-0, B Murtagh, P Greville (1f), D Dolan 0-1 each.

Subs for Antrim: S Burke for McCann (inj. 22), P Cunningham for Murray (51), A Douglas for C Brady (56), K Brady for G O’Boyle (56), T O’Neill for T McCann (67).

Subs for Westmeath: B Murtagh for Duff (22), D Dolan for P Greville (51), P Sherry for Corroon (50), F Boyle for Martin (50).

Referee: M Sludden (Tyrone).

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