Leinster SHC: Antrim too strong for Westmeath

May 05, 2013

Westmeath's Robbie Greville and Derek McNicholas with Shane McNaughton and Paul Shiels of Antrim.
©INPHO/Morgan Treacy.
Antrim 3-18
Westmeath 2-13

Antrim avenged last year's shock defeat to Westmeath thanks to an eight-point victory in this Leinster SHC preliminary round clash at Cusack Park.

While the Saffrons were full value for their win, which earns them a first round date with Laois, the scoreline is harsh on Westmeath who led by four points early in the second half. But the game turned decisively in the Ulster side's favour when Neil McManus blasted a 43rd minute penalty to the net after Derek McNicholas could only manage a point from a penalty at the other end.

Antrim had substitute Karl Stewart sent off on a straight red card in the 49th minute, but Westmeath couldn't capitalise and when McNicholas was also sent to the line a couple of minutes later after picking up his second yellow card, there was only going to be one winner.

The home side had led by 1-9 to 1-7 at the end of an entertaining first half, but aided by the wind in the second half, the sharper and physically stronger favourites gradually took control and the game was ended as a contest when Conor Carson pounced for Antrim's third major with 13 minutes remaining.

Antrim wing forward Eddie McCloskey had the distinction of registering the first score of the 2013 hurling championship when he pointed inside the first minute. Westmeath, who were forced into a late change which saw David Fennell replace his injured twin brother Paul at corner back, had Joe Clarke booked in the third minute before Robbie Greville opened their account in the fifth minute.

Team captain Neil McManus quickly restored the visitors' lead and then wing back Jackson McGreevey popped up with their third point. Paul Shiels picked out Shane McNaughton for Antrim's fourth point in the seventh minute. Joe Clarke and John Shaw both had bad wides for the Lake County who continued to struggle until Niall O'Brien gave them a massive boost when he scored a brilliant individual goal in the ninth minute to tie up the scoring at 1-1 to 0-4.

Two minutes later, Neil McManus restored Antrim's three-point lead when he took advantage of calamitous Westmeath defending to beat Peter Collins for the game's second goal.

The hosts refused to be rattled, though, and responded with four unanswered points to edge in front for the first time. Captain and midfielder Eoin Price started the scoring sequence before further scores from Derek McNicholas and Joe Clarke levelled by the 14th minute.

Antrim corner back Mark McFadden was lucky to escape with just a yellow card for a dangerous challenge on Niall O'Brien before Derek McNicholas gave Westmeath the lead in the 19th minute, 1-5 to 1-4.

Shane McNaughton restored parity from a free in the 21st minute, just moments after Chris McGuinness had replaced Stephen Beatty in the Antrim attack.

Full forward Brendan Murtagh fielded and pointed to restore the home side's lead and within 30 seconds, McNicholas had them two points clear. McNaughton replied with an Antrim point which could just as easily have been a goal before respective goalkeepers Ryan McGarry and Peter Collins made crucial saves at either end.

Murtagh restored Westmeath's two-point advantage with a 28th minute effort. Niall O'Brien uncharacteristically shot wide, but Brian Hanley's men didn't have long to wait for their ninth point from a McNicholas free, which put them three clear for the first time.

Neil McManus narrowed the gap with a 33rd minute point and Antrim would have gone into the break ahead had Collins not denied the centre forward with a marvellous save in the last action of the half.

Eoin Price restored Westmeath's three-point lead immediately after the restart and they were then presented with a glorious opportunity to score a second goal when Niall O'Brien won a penalty. However, the Lakemen had to settle for a point when Derek McNicholas' rasping shot was deflected over.

Trailing by four points, Antrim looked to be in real trouble, but the game turned in the 43rd minute when they were awarded a penalty which McManus dispatched to the net. Jason McGreevey followed up with his second point to restore parity at 2-8 to 1-11.

All of a sudden, Antrim had the bite between their teeth and Eddie McCloskey wasted little time in firing them ahead. The home side were given hope when Stewart received his marching orders in the 49th minute, but within two minutes, it was 14 against 14 when McNicholas was also dismissed.

The momentum remained with Kevin Ryan's side who extended their lead with points from Paul Shiels, McNaughton and midfielder Matthew Donnelly.
Then, in the 57th minute, Conor Carson delivered the knockout blow to the home side when he fired home Antrim's third goal after Adam Price had been caught out badly.

The Westmeath full back's brother Eoin replied with his side's first point in 20 minutes before McNaughton ('65) and McManus were on target for the visitors. Westmeath were given a glimmer of hope when Tommy Doyle's goal made it 2-12 to 3-14 with three minutes remaining, but the fitter and stronger Saffrons weren't to be denied as McCloskey and sub Shane Casey added late points to seal what was a comfortable victory in the end.

Scorers - Antrim: N McManus 2-4 (1-0 free), S McNaughton 0-5 (2fs, 1 65), C Carson 1-0, J McGreevey 0-2, E McCloskey 0-2, M Donnelly 0-1, T McCloskey 0-1, P Shiels 0-1, S Casey 0-1, C Clarke 0-1. Westmeath: D McNicholas 0-5 (3f), E Price 0-4, T Doyle 1-0, N O'Brien 1-0, B Murtagh 0-2, R Greville 0-1, A Clarke 0-1.

Antrim: R McGarry; B McFall, A Graffin, M McFadden; C McKinley, N McAuley, P Shiels; J McGreevey, T McCloskey; S Beattie, M Donnelly, E McCloskey; S McNaughton, C Carson, N McManus. Subs: C McGuinness for Beattie 21, O McFadden for M McFadden 39, K Stewart for McGuinness 49, C Clarke for Donnelly 58, S Casey for McNaughton 64.

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 66, S Power for Fennell 66.

Referee: J Owens (Wexford).

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