Westmeath 2-13 Antrim 3-18
An eight-point win over Westmeath won’t have the bookies running to revise their long odds on Antrim making a first appearance in a Leinster SHC final this summer, but the Saffrons showed enough potential to suggest they will beat Laois.
With that they would advance to a semi-final meeting against Galway... not that Kevin Ryan was giving much credence to that line of thought after the game.
“People are talking about Galway and I am getting sick of it,” said Ryan.
“It is understandable looking at the draw. It would be great to get to a Leinster semi-final. You disrespect Westmeath and Laois, there is going to be very little between ourselves and Laois.”
Based on the comfortable manner in which both teams dispatched Westmeath in the Lake County’s last two outings, that line of thought would seem correct. However, Westmeath were a lot more impressive in this fixture and, but for several missed goal chances, could have pulled off an upset.
“We had our work done and we knew their full-back line was there to be exposed,” said Brian Hanley.
“We did that. We had two goal chances we didn’t take then we missed our penalty too. Games are won and lost on chances and we missed basic ones that you have to take at any level.”
The one Westmeath goal chance fell to corner-forward Niall O’Brien and was scored with clinical efficiency. It forced Ryan into an immediate change of tactic as Antrim immediately double-marked the teenager.
Westmeath did find a lot more space out around midfield, but poor shooting with the aid of the breeze ensured they never built up enough of a lead, as they ran up seven first-half wides.
Neil McManus responded to O’Brien’s goal with Antrim’s first major, blasting home from 20 metres after Robbie Greville was caught in possession. However, Westmeath responded well with six of the next seven scores and led by 1-9 to 1-7 at half time.
It was a lead that could have been stretched even further had Aonghus Clarke not shot straight at the keeper after being played in by O’Brien.
However, the lead looked woefully inadequate as they prepared to face into a stiff breeze in the second half. But after opening the scoring through the lively Eoin Price, a trip on Niall O’Brien by Aaron Graffin caused James Owens to stretch his arms wide and give them a chance to go six points in front.
Ryan McGarry was equal to McNicholas’s effort, deflecting it over the crossbar, and again Antrim responded, making no mistake when they were awarded a penalty of their own.
Conor Carson drew the foul from Adam Price, allowing McManus to cut the lead to a point, a lead that was entirely eradicated when Jackson McGreevy fielded the puck-out to send the ball straight back over Peter Collins’ crossbar.
Westmeath were handed a lifeline when Karl Stewart came on only to be immediately sent back to the line for a wild pull on Tommy Doyle, but the Lake County men failed to capitalise, conceding two scores before losing Derek McNicholas to a second yellow card.
Conor Carson ended the tie as a contest in the 58th minute when he produced a crisp close-range strike to stretch Antrim’s lead, and although Westmeath got a cheer from the home supporters in the 990 attendance with a late Tommy Doyle goal, substitutes Shay Casey and Ciarán Clarke converted nice points to round off the scoring.
“I still feel there is a lot more in us, we need to loosen up a little bit more,” said Ryan. “We have the players, we just need to bring that out on the field.”
Scorers for Westmeath: D McNicholas 0-5 (2f, 0-1 pen), E Price 0-4, N O’Brien, T Doyle 1-0 each, B Murtagh 0-2, R Greville, A Clarke 0-1 each.
Scorers for Antrim: N McManus 2-4 (1-0 pen), S McNaughton 0-5, (2f, 1 65), J McGreevey, E McCloskey 0-2 each, P Sheils, M Donnelly, T McCloskey, S Casey, C Clarke 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH: P Collins; T Gallagher, A Price, D Fennell; G Greville, A McGrath, T Doyle; E Price, R Greville; J Shaw, D McNicholas, J Clarke; N O’Brien, B Murtagh, A Clarke.
Subs: C Jordan for A Price (63), J Boyle for J Clarke (67), S Power for Fennell (67).
ANTRIM: R McGarry; B McFall, A Griffin, M McFadden; C McKinley, N McAuley, P Sheils; J McGreevey, T McCloskey; S Beattie, M Donnelly, E McCloskey; S McNaughton, C Carson, N McManus.
Subs: C McGuinness for Beattie (20), O McFadden for Mc Fadden (39), K Stewart for McGuinness (49), C Clarke for Donnelly (58), S Casey for McNaughton (65).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford).
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