Westmeath hit new heights as Saffrons dice with the drop
Westmeath 1-21 Antrim 0-7
A glorious weekend for Westmeath hurling was capped off in the rain at Cusack Park in Mullingar yesterday when Michael Ryan's men brought a halt to Antrim's gallop in devastating fashion.
The Ulster team went into this Leinster SHC pool game with confidence high after their opening round win over Laois, but this display was more like the dreadful showings which saw them relegated in the league.
In contrast, Westmeath hurling is flying. The feel-good factor from their minors' shock win over Wexford on Saturday was carried forward and manager Michael Ryan said they were inspired by it.
The last time Westmeath played Wexford in minor hurling was in 1967 in Tullamore and on that occasion they were hit for 10 goals, so to send one of the powers of Leinster hurling crashing out of the minor championship is seen as a huge boost for the sport in the midlands county.
"This is a huge weekend for Westmeath hurling," said Ryan. "I have seen them (the minors) play a few times. They have often trained before us on the pitch, their attitude is fantastic and I am not surprised they won the game because Johnny Greville has done a great job. They have a lot of talented players and they will be a match for anybody in the Leinster championship."
Antrim are also managed by a Ryan (Kevin) from Waterford, but he was unable to pinpoint how a side which had defeated Laois last week ended up 17 points adrift of Westmeath yesterday.
"I thought we had turned that corner and we had to an extent," he said.
"Everything was good and feeling good and everyone was very serious. There was never a word of complacency or anything like it - it is just unexplainable how a lot of us didn't show up," he said.
His side was not helped when defender Aaron Graffin suffered an horrendous knee injury in the opening minutes, causing the game to be held up for several minutes.
The wet conditions made hurling difficult, but the surface was very good and it looked like a close game in prospect when points from Antrim's Eoghan Campbell and Paul Shiels trimmed Westmeath's early lead to 0-3 to 0-2 going into the second quarter.
But Westmeath, with Shane Power superb in defence and Cormac Boyle, Eoin Price and Robbie Greville on top around the middle of the field, took over.
They hit seven points in a blistering nine-minute spell which buried Antrim. And there was only going to be one winner when Greville placed Niall O'Brien with a great crossfield ball and he set up Alan Devine who finished a low shot to the net.
That pushed Westmeath into a 1-13 to 0-2 half-time lead and while Ciaran Clarke got the first point of the second-half, Antrim never looked like getting in for a goal which might have sparked a revival.
Instead, Westmeath continued to pick off some excellent scores and Antrim's day of woe was completed when Neil McManus limped off with a knee injury which makes him doubtful for the final pool game against Carlow.
The Saffrons will go into that clash with a chance of still qualifying, but knowing that a loss could see them end up in danger of being relegated to the Christy Ring Cup.
Who knows which Antrim team will turn up?
Scorers - Westmeath: N O'Brien 0-8 (0-5f), A Devine 1-3, R Greville 0-4, D McNicholas 0-3 (0-1 sideline), C Boyle 0-2, B Murtagh 0-1. Antrim: Ciaran Johnson 0-2, P Sheils 0-2 (0-1f), C Clarke 0-2 (0-2f), E Campbell 0-1.
Westmeath: S McGovern 7; S Power 8, T Doyle 6, G Greville 6; A Craig 6, A Clarke 6, A McGrath 6; E Price 7, C Boyle 7; N O'Brien 7, D McNicholas 7, R Greville 8; A Devine 6, B Murtagh 7, D Clinton 6. Subs: E Corrigan 6 for Clinton (52 mins), J Clarke 7 for McGrath (54), J Boyle 6 for McNicholas (58), L Varley 6 for G Greville (62), M Daly 6 for Murtagh (63).
Antrim: C O'Connell 6; O McFadden 6, J Dillon 6, P Shiels 6; S McCrory 6, C McKinley 6, A Graffin 5; M Bradley 5, N McAuley 6; R McCambridge 5, N McManus 5, E Campbell 5; C Clarke 6, Conor Johnson 5, D McClean 5. Subs: D McKieran 6 for Graffin (13 mins), C Carson 5 for McClean (22), Ciaran Johnson 7 for Campbell (35), T McCann 5 for McManus (51), M Donnelly 5 for Clarke (60).
Ref - F Horgan (Tipperary)