Limerick 'flattered' by big margin of victory
Limerick 4-15 Westmeath 1-12
The scoreline would suggest that Limerick eased their way back into the championship race with a facile win in Mullingar, but they certainly didn't have it all their own way against a Westmeath side who gave it everything they had.
The prospect of Westmeath following the example of their footballers and setting the summer on fire only arose a couple of times, but manager Michael Ryan was rightly proud of their efforts.
They looked set for a heavy defeat when Limerick raced into a 2-2 to 0-2 lead after 13 minutes, but a combination of some admirable spirit from Westmeath, the heavy rain and some dreadful finishing by the Treaty men kept the game alive.
Limerick should have pulled away when Kevin Downes and Shane Dowling found the net in the opening quarter but it was Westmeath who showed the great battling qualities in the difficult conditions.
Long-serving full-forward Brendan Murtagh picked off some fine points for Westmeath and then Alan Devine, Joe Clarke, Niall O'Brien and Derek McNicholas combined to send midfielder Cormac Boyle in and he rifled to the roof of the net for a cracking goal.
Limerick hit back and Dowling twice sent goal chances flying across goal for Limerick while Cian Lynch also sent one the wrong side of the right post.
Westmeath, buoyed by these let-offs, responded with Murtagh leveling and then Boyle and McNicholas hit the target to open up a 1-7 to 2-2 lead after 28 minutes.
We wondered if we were watching the shock of the summer unfolding but Limerick, perhaps also finally appreciating the hole they were digging for themselves, opened their shoulders to end an 18-minute barren spell and with Seanie Tobin shooting a couple of points and Dowling and Paul Brown also finding the range, Limerick led by 2-6 to 1-7 at the interval.
Manager TJ Ryan admitted they were worried at the break by the amount of missed chances, but he was not surprised by the quality of Westmeath's challenge. "We were creating the chances, but we weren't putting them away. We gave Westmeath all the respect they deserve because we knew what Mick Ryan from Waterford is capable of.
"We were just telling our guys when the chances presented themselves taking them. We took one early in the second half but I would have been looking for more."
That goal from Brown within a minute of the restart, after being set up by Cian Lynch, really should have killed off the Westmeath challenge but they kept battling and Limerick were just not moving with the necessary fluency to pull away and that should concern them ahead of next weekend.
The net result was that when sub Emmett Corrigan pointed for Westmeath with 10 minutes left, Limerick's lead was cut to four.
But the loss of impressive corner-back Shane Power weakened the Westmeath rearguard and Limerick finished strongly, with Declan Hannon doing well and his first point from play put two goals between them with six minutes left.
Limerick outscored Westmeath by 1-5 to 0-0 in the closing six minutes to run out flattering winners by 12 points.
"The finishing scoreline doesn't do full justice to Westmeath. It was a tough day, they made life very difficult for us. We missed a few goal chances in the first half. 4-15 was probably a good enough score in the finish, but the one thing I do know is we will have to improve," said TJ Ryan, who added that corner-back Tom Condon is doubtful for next weekend with a shoulder injury.
Westmeath manager Michael Ryan said his men showed good character to recover from the concession of early goals.
"I'd be fairly happy with the first 63 or 64 minutes but the last six or seven were disappointing. I'm very proud of those lads. We've come a long way today, we've played some really good hurling against a good side. But it also showed there's a lot of work still to be done," said Ryan, who takes charge again next season.
Scorers - Limerick: S Dowling 1-3 (0-1f), K Downes 1-2, P Brown 1-1, S Tobin 0-3, D Hannon 0-3 (1f, 1'65), A Breen 1-0, G Mulcahy 0-2, T O'Brien 0-1. Westmeath: B Murtagh 0-6 (2f), C Boyle 1-2, D McNicholas 0-2, E Corrigan 0-1, A Devine 0-1.
Limerick - N Quaid 7; T Condon 7, R McCarthy 6, S O'Brien 6; P O'Brien 7, G O'Mahony 7, W McNamara 7; J Ryan 6, P Brown 7; D Breen 6, S Tobin 8, S Dowling 8; C Lynch 6, K Downes 8, G Mulcahy 7. Subs: D Morrissey 7 for Condon (26), T O'Brien 6 for Lynch (44), D Hannon 7 for Tobin (52), A Breen 6 for Dowling (57).
Westmeath - S McGovern 6; S Power 8, T Doyle 6, K Duncan 6; A Craig 6, A Clarke 6, A McGrath 6; C Boyle 7, J Clarke 6; A Devine 6, D McNicholas 7, L Varley 6; N O'Brien 6, B Murtagh 7, R Greville 6. Subs: D Clinton 6 for O'Brien (46), E Corrigan 7 for McNicholas (50), K Murphy 6 for Craig (57), N Mitchell 6 for Power (63).
Ref - P O'Dwyer (Carlow).