It says much though for the ambition of Westmeath that afterwards captain Paddy Dowdall wasn’t in the least consoled by his team’s brave display.
“Not a bad performance I suppose but very disappointed to lose,” he said. “Playing against the wind in the first half made it more difficult but we’re most disappointed with the goals we left in. A few of those could have been prevented, a couple of clearances that we missed and they snuck in for handy goals.”
Galway captain Fergal Moore won the toss and immediately pointed towards the town goal, opting to play with the strong breeze at their backs showing respect for the opposition, said manager Anthony Cunningham.
“We were taking no chances. Galway came here last year and it was probably a biteen closer than it was today.”
On that occasion, again in Mullingar, the sides were level at around the three quarter mark before Galway pulled away to win by a flattering nine points (4-17 to 2-14). This time, while the game was never close, Westmeath did at least play for the full 70 minutes and ‘won’ the second half, outscoring Galway 4-8 to 4-7 having trailed by 11 at the break (1-12 to 0-4).
“We did, but I’m still shattered, still disappointed after this,” Dowdall said. “We have a lot of young lads on the team, only four or five that played against Galway last year, the rest are all newcomers to the senior scene.”
It wasn’t looking good for Westmeath after 35 minutes, struggling badly to stay even close. They weren’t just younger than Galway. They were smaller and lighter, being brushed aside. The Galway goal had come in the 25th minute when substitute corner-forward James Regan beat a naive Conor Jordan to the ball in the right corner, turning him and blasting home from close range.
Four minutes after the restart it was looking even worse for the home side, poorly supported in an attendance of just 2,515. Again Jordan was caught, this time failing to clear, and again a goal resulted, David Burke (shifted to very good effect from midfield to wing-forward) the beneficiary.
Gradually, however, youngster O’Brien to the fore but the likes of Eoin Price, Dowdall himself, Paul Greville and Alan McGrath also stepping forward, Westmeath came back. A goal from midfielder Joe Clarke in the 46th minute — set up by young Robbie Greville — began the comeback, also began the scorefest. A minute later David Burke had his second and Galway’s third major, two minutes on again and it was Westmeath’s turn at the other end, O’Brien pouncing on the rebound after Fergus Flannery had made a fine save from a Brendan Murtagh shot.
At that stage (49th minute) it was Galway still well ahead, 3-12 to 2-6, but Westmeath — wind at their backs and tails up — were now hurling with much more confidence. Galway did get a fourth goal (Cyril Donnellan), and a fifth (Andy Smith), and Westmeath keeper Shane McGovern was called on to make a succession of fine saves, so that on the 60th minute Galway again had a commanding lead, 5-16 to 2-9.
Westmeath weren’t for lying down, however. Two goals in two minutes (O’Brien and Murtagh) restored respectability, due reward for a gallant performance by the home side. “We probably didn’t defend as good as we did against Antrim (preliminary round win),” said manager Brian Hanley. “But we take a lot of positives from it. Our goals and aims aren’t going to be as high as Galway’s goals and aims — to that end we’re happy.”
Also happy was Galway manager Anthony Cunningham: “It’s coming on nicely but you can never trust it, can you? A big score on the board as well so a lot of positives to be taken from it, but we did take our eye off the ball a bit. Offaly now and that’s going to be some battle.
“They had a great win on Saturday night [against Wexford]. We meet them in a few weeks. They would have felt a few years ago they should have beaten Galway so we’ll have to be very careful in that match.”
Scorers for Galway: N Burke 0-8 (6fs, 2 65s), D Burke 2-1, J Regan 1-2, A Smith, C Donnellan 1-1 each, C Cooney, D Hayes, I Tannian 0-2 each.
Scorers for Westmeath: N O’Brien 2-7 (7fs), B Murtagh 1-1 (1-0f). P Dowdall 1-0, P Greville, J Shaw, E Price, D Fennell, 0-1 each.
Subs for Galway: J Regan for Glennon (21), J Glynn for Cooney (50), B Flaherty for Gordon (52), R Cummins for Donnellan (61), P Brehony for N Burke (70).
Subs for Westmeath: J Gilligan for Boyle (35), D Fennell for J Clarke (61), T Gallagher for Jordan (68).
Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary).