The game got off to a frantic start, with four yellow cards dished out inside three minutes by Diarmuid Kirwan, the first two to 17-year-old Liam Varley and Maurice Shanahan after an off-the-ball scuffle that led to a brief melee. Once the game settled down though, it was Westmeath that were the better side until half time, a fact acknowledged by Waterford manager, Michael Ryan.
“We were disappointed with our first-half performance but, first of all, let’s give credit for Westmeath,” said Ryan afterwards.
“They played very well. They were very committed. They seemed to be reacting to the breaks better than we were. We had a good chat at half time, we ironed out a few things and were happy with our second-half performance.
“I felt in the first half our hurling was slow, we moved the ball a bit too slowly. We played in Division 1 so we should be capable of moving the ball a lot quicker. We did that in the second half and opened out the game as well.
“We created the chances and above all, we finished the chances. Any time you win a championship game — we’ve now won two championship games in a row — that’s got to be good for us.”
Points from Derek McNicholas, Aonghus Clarke and Brendan Murtagh helped Westmeath establish an early 0-5 to 0-2 lead.
Waterford were completely reliant on Shanahan at this juncture, with both their scores coming from the Lismore man. He added the next two points as well, including Waterford’s first from play, and Kevin Moran equalised with a fine effort from distance.
But Westmeath’s touch was sure and the likes of McNicholas and Murtagh were looking very sharp. They stretched three points clear once more thanks to scores from the duo — including a 70m strike by Murtagh — and Eoin Price.
Crucially though, Brian O’Sullivan pounced for a 32nd-minute goal after some typical industry from Seamus Prendergast and the sides were level (0-10 to 1-7) at the break.
They were three points clear when O’Sullivan availed of Seamus Prendergast’s industry to find the Westmeath net.
“It almost came against the run of play but Brian O’Sullivan is that kind of a guy,” stated Ryan. “He’s well capable of taking chances. He gets into very good positions. I always feel if you can put him in possession close to goal, he’s capable of getting goals.”
Having settled down during the interval, Waterford seemed much more at ease after the resumption and had points from Prendergast, O’Sullivan and Shanahan before Tommy Doyle hit back for Westmeath.
Shanahan was on fire though, and with more space available, landed some wonderful scores from play. Prendergast and O’Sullivan also prospered, with the latter bagging his second goal at the three-quarter mark.
Shanahan brought his tally to 1-9 when goaling with a first-time ground shot in the game’s last act.
If Ryan was satisfied, so too was Hanley. The Westmeath manager was accurate in saying that the final margin was a bit harsh on his players, but hailed their efforts.
“We said at half time that we didn’t want the moral victory” Hanley declared. “The moral victory was being in the game at half time but call a spade a spade, that’s not worth a damn to you. You’re not coming up here to do that.
“Waterford should be doing what they did to us in the second half. That’s the level they’re at and we’re two divisions behind and it showed. Their physicality was major. So was their first touch, their drive and their accuracy.
“But Mike Ryan came in and was very complimentary of us. We finished with 11 U21s and it’s about what we do from here.”
Scorers for Waterford: M Shanahan 1-9 (4f); B O’Sullivan 2-2; S Prendergast 0-3; K Moran, J Dillon 0-2 each; S Fives, D Fives, S O’Sullivan, J Barron 0-1 each
Scorers for Westmeath: D McNicholas 0-6 (4f); B Murtagh 0-3; E Price 0-2; A Clarke, J Shaw, T Doyle 0-1 each
Subs for Waterford: G O’Brien for Mahony (53); E Barrett for D Fives (55); D Twomey for Foley (57); T Browne for Barry (61); J Barron for Dillon (64).
Subs for Westmeath: T Doyle for Shaw (38); G Greville for Gallagher (49); A Craig for O’Brien (65); S Power for R Greville (65); T Egan for Varley (66).
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; S Fives, L Lawlor, N Connor, D Fives, M Walsh, R Barry; R Foley, K Moran, J Dillon, P Mahony, S O’Sullivan, M Shanahan, S Prendergast, B O’Sullivan.
WESTMEATH: P Collins; P Fennell, T Gallagher, L Varley, D Fennell, A McGrath, A Price, E Price, R Greville, B Murtagh, J Boyle, J Shaw, N O’Brien, D McNicholas, A Clarke.