Westmeath back from the brink

Westmeath 2-22 Kildare 2-13

Westmeath back from the brink

Having already lost three of their four Leinster qualifier series games — dropping them into this promotion/relegation play-off — they’d hit ‘rock bottom’, according to manager Brian Hanley.

From that perilous position, however, Westmeath proceeded to produce what Hanley claimed was their best hurling since he took over in 2011.

By full-time, they’d forced a 16-point turnaround on the scoreboard, though Alan Devine’s injury-time goal did skew the mathematics a little.

Still, they had inspirational performers in their ranks and none more so than full-back Tom Doyle, who made some game-saving interventions and thundered ball after ball out of defence.

An improved midfield display from the 20th minute onwards and 11 points from Niall O’Brien provided the platform for victory.

The result means Westmeath will play in Leinster’s qualifying series of games again in 2015, while Kildare will remain in the Ring Cup.

“It has been a brilliant year from a learning and development point of view because we hit rock bottom — we have had to play a relegation play-off game,” said Hanley.

“I am very proud of them. We have had some good days but that performance was better than anything we have done previously. We are scoring a lot more, playing with a lot more freedom. These young lads can deliver. Is there a better full-back than our full-back, Thomas Doyle? He is outstanding.”

Suddenly, the future is brighter for Westmeath. Their U21 side face Dublin in the Leinster semi-finals on Wednesday week. With most of Saturday’s senior team playing for them, they are quietly confident of an upset.

Defeat was tough for Kildare. It was their seventh consecutive Saturday of championship action after the Ring Cup win. The game was also moved from neutral Navan to Westmeath’s home after Kildare requested the time be changed to accommodate a player’s job interview. They appeared to overcome those issues with sixth and 10th-minute goals from Bernard Deay and Gerry Keegan to lead 2-4 to 0-4. A Keegan point opened up a seven-point advantage. But Westmeath came roaring back into it, with five points in a row. Then they netted a brilliant solo goal from Derek McNicholas to lead by 1-13 to 2-7 at half-time.

When they restarted with six of the first seven points in the second half, they took total control.

“Psychologically more than physically, there was such euphoria last weekend, we celebrated the Ring Cup and then to have to pick it up and go again days later, it was too much,” said Kildare boss Brian Lawlor.

“ was worried beforehand. I wasn’t going to let the players see that. The funny thing was, we started very well, got two great goals. But I think we were running on adrenaline. When Westmeath got into it, you could see we visibly just couldn’t get to the breaks, couldn’t close them down, just didn’t have it in the legs.”

Scorers for Westmeath: N O’Brien (0-11, six frees, 2 65s), D McNicholas (1-2), A Devine (1-1), R Greville, A Clarke and D Gavin (0-2 each), A Craig and J Boyle (0-1 each).

Scorers for Kildare: G Keegan (1-2), B Deay (1-1), P Divilly (0-4, one free, 2 65s), M Moloney and R Casey (0-2 each), M Delaney and M Fitzgerald (0-1 each).

WESTMEATH: P Collins; K Duncan, T Doyle, L Varley; G Greville, A Craig, P Reilly; P Gilsenan, E Price; D Gavin, A Clarke, R Greville; A Devine, D McNicholas, N O’Brien.

Subs: J Boyle for Clarke (49), M Heaney for Reilly (56).

KILDARE: P Dermody; N O Muineachain, F O Muineachain, J Doran; E O’Neill, R Hoban, D Harney; M Fitzgerald, M Moloney; W Green, P Divilly, B Deay; G Keegan, T Murphy, M Delaney.

Subs: J O’Malley for Green (52), R Casey for Delaney (60).

Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).

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