Leinster SHC: Kilkenny overcome brave Westmeath
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship
Kilkenny 5-23 Westmeath 1-19
By Gerry Buckley at TEG Cusack Park
Kilkenny put a sluggish first half performance behind them to emerge as comfortable winners against a brave Westmeath outfit in TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar this evening.
Westmeath, operating for the first time in the round robin system, played with the aid of a slight wind in the first half. They hurled with great spirit and no little skill right from the throw-in and showed scant regard for their opponents’ lofty record. Their marquee forward Killian Doyle never missed a free and the home team were full value for their 0-10 to 0-6 lead with 23 minutes on the clock, Niall O’Brien scoring their tenth, with Doyle and Joey Boyle having shared the first nine.
In the 25th minute, Mikey Carey joined the attack and availed of a good ‘advantage’ call from the referee to rifle an unstoppable shot past championship debutant Conor Bracken. The latter had made a great save from Pádraig Walsh in the 16th minute.
With Tommy Doyle, Jack Galvin and Daragh Egerton outstanding in defence and regular forward Niall Mitchell back sweeping to great effect, Westmeath refused to throw in the towel and it needed solid free-taking from Alan Murphy and opportunism from play by Pádraig Walsh (who scored three points in the first half) to keep the Cats’ noses in front. Kilkenny had only wide to their opponents’ five in the first half and were somewhat fortunate to be ahead by 1-12 to 0-12 at the interval.
Brian Cody introduced TJ Reid for the second half, but they were still just a goal to the good (1-16 to 0-16) with 46 minutes on the clock. However, their superior fitness and know-how began to show as Westmeath visibly tired and Billy Ryan’s 54th-minute goal put them ahead by 2-19 to 0-16.
Another Doyle free reduced the deficit, but two minutes after Westmeath were reduced to 14 men with the sending off of Cormac Boyle on a second yellow card, sub James Maher pounced for his side’s third goal just before the hour mark to end any lingering doubts about the outcome.
It was damage limitation for Joe Fortune’s troops at this juncture and despite some fine defending and brave goalkeeping from last year’s Joe McDonagh Cup champions, the visitors raised two more green flags late in the contest via Walter Walsh in the 67th minute and Reid in the third minute of added-time, after he had initially gone short from a scoreable free. Sub Owen McCabe scored a consolation goal for Westmeath with time almost up.
Scorers for Kilkenny: A Murphy 0-7 (6fs), TJ Reid 1-4 (0-2fs, 0-1‘65’), W Walsh 1-2, B Ryan, J Maher 1-1 each, P Walsh 0-4, A Mullen 0-2, C Kenny, E Cody 0-1 each.
Scorers for Westmeath: K Doyle 0-14 (11fs), O McCabe 1-0, J Boyle 0-2, D Egerton, D Glennon, N O’Brien 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; M Butler, H Lawlor, T Walsh; M Carey, P Deegan, D Blanchfield; C Kenny, A Mullen; W Walsh, P Walsh, E Cody; B Ryan, M Keoghan, A Murphy.
Subs: J Donnelly for Keoghan (34), TJ Reid for Kenny (h-t), J Maher for Murphy (46), C Browne for Blanchfield (59), S Walsh for Ryan (66).
Referee: R McGann (Clare).