McDonagh Cup: Thrilling triumph for Westmeath
Joe McDonagh Cup
WESTMEATH 2-19 ANTRIM 1-20
By Cian O’Connell at TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar
These are encouraging times for Westmeath, who summoned a mixture of craft and graft to advance to the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup decider.
A fourth straight win in the competition was posted by Michael Ryan’s rapidly improving outfit, who survived a gutsy Antrim revival.
Antrim had fought back from an eight point deficit to lead in the closing stages, but Westmeath remained ice cool to close out the deal.
A lively opening period laced with quality scores from distance showcased both Westmeath and Antrim’s ability, but the midlanders were that little bit slicker in attack.
From 21 first half shots Westmeath mined 2-12, Antrim struck 0-10 from 18 and that is why Michael Ryan’s charges led by eight at the break.
Initially Antrim relied on the splendid Neil McManus for scores and inspiration with the Saffrons accumulating a 0-6 to 0-3 advantage by the 13th minute.
Westmeath, though, were back trading on terms seconds later when Ciaran Doyle supplied the finish following Eoin Price’s assist.
Suddenly Westmeath were motoring and they had edged 1-10 to 0-9 in front before planting a second goal in the 34th minute.
It was all about Niall O’Brien’s skill as the Castletown Geoghegan forward gathered an inviting Liam Varley delivery with admirable composure.
O’Brien dashed towards the posts and was crafty enough to bat the sliotar in the back of the Antrim net as Westmeath eventually departed with a 2-12 to 0-10 half-time cushion.
After the restart, though, Antrim improved considerably and amazingly were back level by the 51st minute following a brilliant burst.
Substitute Kealan Mooley pinched an opportunistic 48th minute major narrowing the gap to one prior to McManus’ equaliser.
Westmeath, so impressive early on, were in deep distress with a McManus free steering the visitors, who struck 1-6 without reply, ahead on 53.
Moments later Alan Devine terminated a 20 minute search for a Westmeath score restoring parity once more and the issue was delicately poised.
The drama continued from then until the end, but ultimately the decisive blows were supplied by Liam Varley, Niall Mitchell, and Devine as Westmeath, who had Brendan Doyle sent off for a second bookable offence, claimed a thrilling triumph.
Scorers for Westmeath: Alan Devine 0-7 (3fs, 365s), Ciaran Doyle and Niall O’Brien 1-2 each, Niall Mitchell 0-3, Liam Varley 0-2, Paul Greville, Aonghus Clarke, Robbie Greville 0-1 each.
*Scorers for Antrim: *Neil McManus 0-13 (7fs), Kealan Molloy 1-0, Conor McCann 0-2, Paddy Burke, John Dillon, Nigel Elliott, Eoghan Campbell, and Conor Johnston 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH: Paddy Carroll; Shane Power, Tommy Doyle, Brendan Doyle; Liam Varley, Paul Greville, Derek McNicholas; Eoin Price, Joey Boyle; Alan Devine, Aonghus Clarke, Niall Mitchell; Niall O’Brien, Ciaran Doyle, Robbie Greville.
Subs: John Gilligan for Boyle (55), Darragh Clinton for Ciaran Doyle (60).
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliott; Aaron Graffin, John Dillon, Conor McKinley; Simon McCrory, Paddy Burke, David Kearney; James McNaughton, Eoghan Campbell; Conor McCann, Neil McManus, Nigel Elliott; Eddie McCloskey, Conor Johnston, Ciaran Clarke.
Subs: Ryan McCambridge for McCrory (30-32, blood) Keelan Molloy for McCloskey (HT), Donal McKinley for McNaughton (45), Daniel McCloskey for Nigel Elliott (69)
REFEREE: Rory McGann (Clare).