Trailing Antrim six points near the interval and with corner-back Conor Jordan harshly red-carded, Westmeath appeared to be in deep distress but Brian Hanley’s team summoned a brave response.
In an edgy encounter at Cusack Park, Westmeath revelled in the physical exchanges and Hanley always believed his underdogs would bark.
“It was a super performance and it was probably the best 70 minutes I’ve had in my few short years as a manager. I felt that performance was in us and I knew on Thursday when we had a 15-a-side game on the same pitch that we were right.
“I told the players that if they could keep that determination and drive going we would be in with a chance.’’
Early on it seemed as if Antrim would post a victory as Liam Watson and Shane McNaughton were causing the locals plenty of bother as the Saffrons accumulated a 0-7 to 0-1 advantage by the 31st minute. Jordan had also been sent off after picking up a second yellow card for a shoulder on McNaughton, but manager Jerry Wallace reckoned a row in the 15th minute was the beginning of Antrim’s problems.
“I think Westmeath’s tactic of making it more of a battle than a game of hurling with the incident in the first half took us away from playing hurling. After the incident with Liam Watson I felt the focus went out of our game.’’
Westmeath trimmed the margin to 0-8 to 0-3 by the interval and, with Paul Greville superb defensively and Niall O’Brien precise in attack, they gained confidence. John Shaw levelled in the 64th minute before late scores from O’Brien and a Brendan Murtagh free booked a June 3 date with Galway.
Hanley is looking forward to his sideline collision with Anthony Cunningham. “It is why I am in this, you never know down the road what might be in this for you,’’ he said.
“I did a few years with the Galway U21s with Anthony. I cannot wait. Anthony has already rang, he is doing great work for Galway hurling as are Mattie Kenny and Tom Helebert, two real Galway men.
“We saw the occasion last year against Galway. Whether we can perform as good as we did last year I don’t know, but it is a mighty honour for me to manage a team against Galway.”
Scorers for Westmeath: N O’Brien 0-8 (6fs), F Boyle, B Murtagh (1f) 0-2 each, J Shaw, A Clarke 0-1 each.
Scorers for Antrim: L Watson 0-4, S McNaughton (2fs), N McManus (1f) 0-3 each, B McAuley, C McCann 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH: S McGovern; C Jordan, A Price, P Fennell; P Dowdall, A McGrath, P Greville; A Clarke, J Clarke; B Murtagh, F Boyle, R Greville; N O’Brien, J Shaw, E Price.
Subs: D Fennell for Boyle (65), P Gilsenan for R Greville (70).
ANTRIM: DD Quinn; J Kerr, C Carson, A Graffin; M Gettens, N McManus, N McAuley; B McAuley, P Shiels; M Herron, B McFall, E McCloskey; D Hamill, L Watson, S McNaughton.
Subs: K Stewart for Hamill (47), PJ O’Connell for Herron (57), C McCann for McFall (63), S McCrory for Kerr (67).
Referee: A Stapleton (Laois).