This was a canter for Galway as Shane O’Neill picked up a convincing victory in his first National League game as manager, although playing against Westmeath’s 14 men for all of the second half softened his side’s route to victory at Pearse Stadium.
In front of 7,654 spectators Tadhg Haran shone bright with six points from midfield for the home side, while Conor Whelan’s 17th minute goal saw Galway pull seven points clear.
The sending off of Aonghus Clarke came hot on the heels of that score when the centre back saw red for a challenge on Joe Canning, and after that Shane O’Brien’s side only managed one more point from play.
Canning was his usual accurate self from placed balls and he ended with 12 points, but with his native Limerick up next weekend, O’Neill knows his side face a rapid step up in class.
“We’re delighted to get two points, to get up and running. There is an awful lot to work on performance wise,” said O’Neill.
“But it’s early yet so we’re looking forward to getting cracking on Tuesday now again. It’s great to have that first competitive match up and running and have the win.
“It’s very difficult this time of the year, just trying to get the hurling sharp enough. We weren’t particularly delighted with the standard of hurling that we had. We had a lot of chances there that we didn’t take, but that will come as the games come along.
“It’ll be a huge step up next week. You could even see Limerick last night; in the first half again they were off slightly but they really upped the ante in the second half.
“It’s not something we have been considering yet, Limerick. We have been taking each game as it comes. Our main priority was to get the two points here, try and get a performance in and then we can just go from week to week.”
For both teams it was a shame the sending off ruined the game as a competition.
Westmeath had started brightly and they punished Galway’s sloppy defending through the free taking of Killian Doyle. They were 0-3 to 0-2 ahead after eight minutes, before Haran and Cathal Mannion began to purr alongside Canning’s frees. By the time Whelan rattled the roof of the net from a tight angle Galway were 1-7 to 0-3 ahead.
Clarke had already picked up a yellow card in the 21st minute, but it was unclear whether referee Johnny Murphy gave him a straight red for his second infringement. The Galway camp claim it was a straight red and Westmeath say it was a second yellow card.
Whatever the hue, the result was the same, and Westmeath manager O’Brien bristled. “It was two yellows. A bizarre decision,” he said. “We thought it was an absolutely outrageous decision.
“Aonghus is the heartbeat of this team. You’d have to admire the lads’ resolve and the way they stick at it. Nobody threw in the towel at any stage. I know they’ll bounce back next Sunday.”
O’Neill said: “There was an instruction from the referee beforehand that anything to the head at all was going to be a red card. But it was still very harsh.”
Haran and Cathal Mannion had two points each by the interval as Galway led 1-12 to 0-8 and after Sean Linnane and Cormac Boyle swapped points, Galway then took total control.
Eight points without reply came as they pulled and dragged the Westmeath defence around the field, while substitutes Sean Bleahene and Tomas Monaghan also got in on the act.
At the back, new goalkeeper Eanna Murphy didn’t have a save to make, but his distribution and puck-outs were exemplary, while Darren Morrissey also caught the eye at corner-back for the Tribesmen.
Daragh Clinton ended 23 scoreless minutes for Westmeath with a late free, but this was no test for the Tribesmen.
“Naturally we are all disappointed inside there,” said the Westmeath manager. “We have a very ambitious group of players and management team too but I think the sending off before half-time was a huge factor in the game.
“Unfortunately, it is a massive adjustment for us up at this level, but to be down to 14 is an even greater challenge.
“Look, we have to learn from it and move on.”
J Canning 0-12 (9f, 1’65), T Haran 0-6, C Whelan 1-0, C Mannion 0-3, S Linnane 0-1, S Bleahene 0-1, T Monaghan 0-1.
E Murphy; D Morrissey, G McInerney, TJ Brennan; J Coen, P Mannion (c), A Tuohey; S Linnane, T Haran; D Kilcommins, J Canning, C Mannion; J Flynn, C Whelan, J Mannion.
A Harte for Coen (h-t), S Bleahene for J Mannion (43), T Monaghan for Flynn (57), J Grealish for Linnane (57), P Killeen for Morrissey (68)
K Doyle 0-7 (7f), D Clinton 0-2 (1f), C Boyle 0-1.
A McHugh; A Ennis, T Doyle, J Bermingham; S Clavin, A Clarke, A Craig; C Boyle, L Varley; K Doyle, J Boyle, R Greville; D Clinton, E Price, N Mitchell.
B Doyle for Bermingham (19), J Gilligan for Varley (h-t), C Doyle for K Doyle (42), A Cox for Greville (52), J Galvin for Price (64)
Johnny Murphy (Limerick).