Joe McDonagh: Ruthless Antrim claim victory
Joe McDonagh Cup
Antrim 4-25 Westmeath 1-15
From David Mohan at Corrigan Park
A ruthless display from Antrim saw them romp to a 19-point victory over Westmeath in this Joe McDonagh Cup opener at a windy Corrigan Park in Belfast.
The Saffrons were without six players who either tested positive for Covid-19 or were a close contact and had to isolate, while Neil McManus was also out with a hamstring injury, but this made no difference as their replacements delivered an awesome display full of intensity, slick hurling and clinical attacking to bank the points.
Ciaran Clarke terrorised the visitors throughout and scored goals in each half, while having a hand in many other scores, while Gerard Walsh and Joe Maskey were on top form in the wing-back positions.
Westmeath have had the upper hand in meetings between the counties in recent years and with the wind at their backs in the opening period, they would have been keen to assert themselves, but it wasn't to be.
The lively Darragh Clinton did give them an early lead, but Gerard Walsh replied for the hosts who surged ahead on four minutes when Clarke collected a loose ball and raced through to fire to the net.
The visitors did respond well and led 0-6 to 1-2 at the water break with Clinton, Niall O'Bien and Brendan Murtagh on target, but this was as good as it would get for them as the hosts took a firm grip thereafter with Clarke finding his range and then setting-up team captain Conor McCann for a 33rd minute goal that helped Antrim into a 2-9 to 0-8 lead at the half having played some slick hurling throughout the opening period.
There was no let-up after the restart with Clarke and Murtagh swapping early frees before the points began to flow for Antrim through Clarke, Walsh, McCann and Eoghan Campbell and on 48 minutes, their third goal came as Dan McCloskey did excellently to win the ball under pressure and put Clarke through to bury to the net.
Their fourth goal came just minutes later as Aodhán O'Brien got on the end of a ball across goal to fire low into the net. Westmeath did hit back immediately as Niall O'Brien pounced when Ryan Elliott batted a long ball down to whip home, but Antrim were 4-15 to 1-11 clear heading into the final quarter.
The Saffrons kept their foot on the gas with Keelan Molloy and substitutes Damon McMullan and Simon McCrory finding their range with Clarke and McKenna also adding to their personal tallies as Antrim stormed home to claim their first win over Westmeath in league or championship since 2014.
Scorers for Antrim: Ciaran Clarke 2-8 (7fs), Conor McCann 1-3, Niall McKenna 0-4, Keelan Molloy 0-4, Aodhán O'Brien 1-0, Eoghan Campbell 0-2, Gerard Walsh 0-2, Damon McMullan 0-1, Simon McCrory 0-1.
Scorers for Westmeath: Darragh Clinton 0-6 (5fs, 165), Niall O'Brien 1-2, Darragh Clinton 0-4, Niall Mitchell 0-1, Aonghus Clarke 0-1, Shane Williams 0-1
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Eoghan Campbell, Ryan McGarry; Niall McKenna, Aodhán O'Brien, Keelan Molloy; Dan McCloskey, Conor McCann, Ciaran Clarke.
Subs: Nicky McKeague for Aodhán O'Brien (51), Damon McMullan for Ryan McGarry (60), Ryan McCambridge for Dan McCloskey (63), Ronan Molloy for Gerard Walsh (65), Simon McCrory for Eoghan Campbell (66).
WESTMEATH: Eoin Skelly; Johnny Bermingham, Tommy Doyle, Conor Shaw; Aaron Craig, Aonghus Clarke, Cormac Boyle; Robbie Greville, Jack Galvin; Niall Mitchell, Derek McNicholas, Joey Boyle; Niall O'Brien, Brendan Murtagh, Darragh Clinton.
Subs: Eoin Price for Jack Galvin (12), Allan Devine for Derek McNicholas (HT), Shane Williams (0-1) for Niall Mitchell (48), Alan Cox for Cormac Boyle (57), Shane McGovern for Johnny Bermingham (63).
REFEREE: Sean Stack (Dublin).