Antrim end decade of drought

Antrim 0-16 Westmeath 1-07

Antrim 0-16 Westmeath 1-07

Antrim scored six of this game’s final seven points to earn their first All-Ireland SFC qualifier win in 10 years.

Westmeath started strongly at Casement Park with a John Heslin point and James Dolan’s goal, however Antrim soon took control.

The Saffrons strung together eight unanswered points, including three from Gerard O’Boyle, to lead by 0-08 to 1-03 at half-time.

The sides were well matched in the third quarter but with James Loughrey showing well, Antrim pulled through to end a losing run in the qualifiers that stretched back to their 2001 win over Leitrim.

Referee Martin Sludden was a central figure in today's game which marked his first Championship appointment since last year's controversial Leinster final between Louth and Meath. He awarded six yellow cards over the 70 minutes at the Belfast venue, while he also banished Westmeath boss Pat Flanagan to the stands late on.

Westmeath were dealt a major blow before the throw-in when a hamstring injury forced former All-Star Dessie Dolan out of the starting line-up.

Likewise, Antrim's sharpshooter Paddy Cunningham was a late withdrawal, but both Dolan and Cunningham were sprung from their respective benches in the second half.

Antrim may have claimed a comfortable six-point win, but it was Westmeath who burst into an early lead with teenager Heslin slotting over the opening point after 26 seconds.

The momentum continued to swing in favour of Flanagan's charges in the early stages. A long ball was delivered to the inrushing James Dolan and he tucked it away for the game's only goal.

The wing back's effort propelled the visitors into a 1-01 to 0-00 lead after just two-and-a-half minutes, but Westmeath lost their scoring streak as Antrim enjoyed a purple patch.

The Saffrons scored eight points without reply as Gerard O'Boyle, Conor Murray, Brendan Herron and Kevin Niblock reeling them off. Heslin and Brendan Murtagh replied in the closing stages for the Lakesiders, leaving two between the sides at the break.

Defences were in top in the opening five minutes of the second half, as both teams tried to add further to their tallies. Just a point separated the sides at the end of the third quarter following a Paul Greville score.

Dessie Dolan and Cunningham were both introduced into the fray with 19 minutes, in a bid to add freshness to their respective attacks.

However, Dolan's introduction failed to reap the dividends for Westmeath as despite the Garrycastle clubman knocking over a point, Antrim outscored Westmeath by six points to one in the fourth quarter.

Defender Tony Scullion landed two excellent points in the 57th and 68th minutes, and Cunningham, Herron and the assured Tomas McCann also raised white flags.

Goal chances were all too rare - midfielder Aodhan Gallagher went closest for Antrim in the dying minutes, but a superb save from Westmeath goalkeeper Gary Connaughton denied the St Gall's All-Ireland club winner.

Liam Bradley's charges were in cruise control as they got their summer campaign back on track after a disappointing exit from the Ulster Championship.

ANTRIM: S O'Neill; C Brady, R Johnston, K O'Boyle; T Scullion (0-02), J Crozier, A Healy; M McCann, A Gallagher; C Murray (0-01), T McCann (0-04, 0-02f, 0-02 '45'), J Loughrey (0-02); G O'Boyle (0-03, 0-02f), B Herron (0-02), K Niblock (0-01).

Subs used: S Burke for M McCann (24 mins), M Sweeney for Gallagher (46-48, blood sub), P Cunningham (0-01) for Murray (51), A Doughlas for C Brady (57), K Brady for O'Boyle (57), T O'Neill for T McCann (69).

WESTMEATH: G Connaughton; M Curley, A Finnan, K Gavin; D Corroon, K Martin, J Dolan (1-00); D Daly, D Duffy; G Egan, J Heslin (0-04, 0-03f), D Harte; C Lynam, Denis Glennon, P Greville (0-01, 0-01f).

Subs used: B Murtagh (0-01) for Duffy (23 mins), D Dolan (0-01) for Greville (51), F Boyle for Corroon, P Sharry for Martin (both 60), David Glennon for Harte (67).

Referee: Martin Sludden (Tyrone)

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