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Flanagan's dismissal caps Westmeath's miserable day

Referee Martin Sludden was embroiled in more championship controversy at Casement Park on Saturday when he ordered Westmeath manager Pat Flanagan to the stand in the closing minutes of Antrim's deserved success.

Sludden, who was attacked by Louth fans after Meath's controversial victory in last year's Leinster final, gave Flanagan his marching orders for persistent verbal abuse.

It was the official's first championship game since last year's explosive provincial final.

Despite getting off to a very poor start, a physically stronger Antrim side were worthy winners against a disappointing Westmeath outfit, with Brendan Herron wrapping up the win with a spectacular two-fisted point deep into added time.

The small contingent of travelling fans from the midlands were shattered on their arrival to hear that their star forward, Dessie Dolan, had failed a late fitness test on his damaged hamstring.


However, the Lake County still got off to a dream start with a point after 30 seconds from teenage star John Heslin and a well-taken goal from overlapping wing-back James Dolan -- a cousin of Dessie -- just two minutes later.

But the home team took complete control of proceedings for the next 28 minutes, firing over eight unanswered points in the process, including six from open play, one of which -- from Conor Murray in the 10th minute -- should have been a goal.

Twelve minutes later, midfielder Michael McCann suffered an injury as another goal opportunity beckoned.

Westmeath got a double boost approaching the interval when Heslin -- who starts an Australian Rules career next month with Richmond Tigers -- converted a free and dual star Brendan Murtagh kicked a terrific point from a tight angle.

Overall, however, the visitors were flattered, and probably relieved, to be only two points down at the break, with Antrim leading 0-8 to 1-3.

The Glensmen continued to look the better team on the change of ends, with Aodhan Gallagher prominent at midfield, while their attack was far livelier and more economical than their opponents'.

In Dolan's absence, Denis Glennon was expected to lead the Westmeath charge, but the captain had a poor game and struggled to exert his influence on proceedings.

Dolan was sprung from the bench in the 52nd minute and kicked a fine point, but the Antrim backs were generally well on top of their men and always looked comfortable.

With six minutes of normal time remaining, Westmeath's former All Star goalkeeper Gary Connaughton produced a fabulous save from Gallagher, with Tomas McCann converting the resultant '45'.

In truth, Liam Bradley's men never looked in the slightest danger of being overturned and extended their summer in convincing fashion.

SCORERS -- Antrim: T McCann 0-4 (2f, 2'45'), G O'Boyle 0-3 (2f), J Loughrey, B Herron, T Scullion 0-2 each, C Murray, K Niblock, P Cunningham 0-1 each. Westmeath: J Heslin 0-4 (3f), J Dolan 1-0, B Murtagh, P Greville (f), D Dolan 0-1 each.

ANTRIM -- S O'Neill 6; C Brady 6, R Johnson 7, K O'Boyle 6; T Scullion 7, J Crozier 6, A Healy 6; M McCann 6, A Gallagher 7; C Murray 6, T McCann 6, J Loughrey 7; G O'Boyle 6 , B Herron 7, K Niblock 8. Subs: S Burke 6 for M McCann (22), P Cunningham 6 for Murray (51), A Douglas 6 for Brady (57), K Brady 6 for G O'Boyle (57), T O'Neill for T McCann (68).

WESTMEATH -- G Connaughton 7; M Curley 7, A Finnan 6, K Gavin 5; D Corroon 6, K Martin 5, J Dolan 7; D Daly 5, D Duffy 4; G Egan 5, J Heslin 6, D Harte 6; P Greville 5, Denis Glennon 5, C Lynam 5. Subs: B Murtagh 7 for Duffy (22), D Dolan 6 for Greville (52), P Sharry 5 for Corroon (60), F Boyle 6 for Martin (60), David Glennon for Harte (68).

REF -- M Sludden (Tyrone).

Irish Independent