Saturday 17 February 2018

Murtagh breathes new life into Westmeath

Westmeath 2-19 Carlow 2-17

Westmeath’s Eoin Price tries to get away from Carlow’s Sean Murphy during their Leinster SHC qualifier clash in Cusack Park
Westmeath’s Eoin Price tries to get away from Carlow’s Sean Murphy during their Leinster SHC qualifier clash in Cusack Park
Carlow's Martin Kavanagh in action against Eoin Price
Seamus Murphy, Carlow, does his best to tackle Westmeath's Joe Clarke
Alan Devine, Westmeath, scores his side's first goal
Westmeath manager Michael Ryan celebrates with Niall O'Brien, left, and Aonghus Clarke at the end of the game

Declan Rooney

Westmeath fended off a late Carlow surge as Brendan Murtagh’s stunning second-half goal proved the difference between the sides at Cusack Park.

Depending on results elsewhere, Michael Ryan’s side can clinch a spot in the Leinster quarter-final if they beat Antrim in Mullingar next weekend, but the spectre of relegation to the Christy Ring Cup will become even likelier for Carlow should they lose to Laois.

It took this game a little while to find championship intensity, but by the final action both teams were fighting like dogs to take victory.

The fact that Westmeath edged it is a huge boost to the side following their Division 2A final defeat to Kerry last month, but Ryan is eyeing another win as his side continue to improve.

“To win the first game in the group was very, very important for us and puts us in a good place,” said Ryan.

“There was a great intensity about that game today. People might look down on Carlow and Westmeath playing hurling and Antrim and other teams, but that was a game of a very high standard.

“It was very exciting, there was a lot of really good scores. There was an awful lot of good things about the game.”

At times the conditions were more like a winter training session, but it didn’t harm the action as the crowd were treated to excellent point-taking and some brilliant goals.

Top of the list was Murtagh’s sweet goal in the 50th minute. The excellent Derek McNicholas picked a Shane McGovern puckout from the sky and instantly delivered the ball into Murtagh. He shook off the attentions of John Rogers, but his finish to the top corner was the highlight.

Alan Devine had also hit the net for Westmeath in the first half, but a poor puckout from Peter Collins allowed Martin Kavanagh to goal, before Seamus Murphy hit the net in injury-time to square the game at the interval, 1-12 to 2-9.

Westmeath will wonder how they didn’t lead at half-time after they played with the wind advantage and  bossed the action.


They made their intentions clear from the throw-in when they hustled and harried the Carlow defence into an error before O’Brien fired over the first of his seven points.

Carlow also logged a good first quarter and they led by 0-4 to 0-3 after 17 minutes, and after two Darragh Clinton points in a minute, Pat English’s side took the lead when Martin Kavanagh found the net.

But Westmeath are a spirited outfit, and after working themselves into a good lead then throwing it away in injury-time, they stormed into the second half and finished off the job.

Murtagh’s goal came at a crucial point in the game and it put three between the sides, and after Niall O’Brien and McNicholas pointed, even Carlow’s late surge couldn’t claw back the deficit.

“There was a huge amount up for grabs, but it’s the same next Sunday and the same the following Sunday,” said Carlow manager English.

“Whatever the result was up the road, it ain’t over. We are disappointed, gutted and upset, and we have to channel that and get back for next week.”

There were positives for Carlow in defeat though. Wing-forward Sean Murphy impressed with three points, Kavanagh recovered from a shaky start to fire 1-7 and Seamus Murphy proved a danger man inside as displayed with his fine goal just before half-time.

They need a win at home against Laois next week to avoid a likely relegation.

A total of 13 wides for Carlow helped Westmeath along the way, but with full-back Tommy Doyle masterful for the home side in the second half especially a return of eight points from the visitors was never going to be enough after the break.

There were signs of improvement for Westmeath too. They struggled desperately under the high ball in the league final, but apart from Murphy’s goal they coped easily with any route-one deliveries in this game. Ryan would settle for more of the same next week.

“It is great for us to win a tight game. It really find out an awful lot about yourself as an individual and as a team in a tight finish. The pressure was on there today,” he said.

“They got three great points to bring it back to two, and there was always the possibility they’d get a goal.

“We battled away and I thought we kept I very tight in defence at the end and we played really well in a lot of aspect of the game,” said Ryan.

Scorers - Westmeath: N O'Brien 0-7 (2fs), A Devine 1-3, B Murtagh 1-2, D McNicholas 0-3, E Price, D Clinton 0-2 each. Carlow: M Kavanagh 1-7 (4fs, 2 '65s'), Seamus Murphy 1-2, Sean Murphy 0-3, C Wall 0-2, E Coady, P Coady, J M Nolan 0-1 each.

Westmeath - P Collins 5; S Power 6, T Doyle 9, A McGrath 6; A Craig 7, A Clarke 7, G Greville 7; C Boyle 7, E Price 8; A Devine 8, D McNicholas 9, R Greville 7; N O'Brien 8, B Murtagh 8, D Clinton 7. Subs: S McGovern 7 for Collins (h-t), J Clarke 6 for McGrath (51), E Corrigan for Clinton (72).

Carlow - K Kehoe 7; R Coady 6, J Rogers 7, A Corcoran 6; E Coady 7, D English 8, G Coady 7; D Byrne 6, C Wall 7; Sean Murphy 8, E Byrne 7, J M Nolan 7; J Kavanagh 7, M Kavanagh 8, Seamus Murphy 8. Subs: P Coady 7 for J M Nolan (55), D O'Neill for Wall (68).

Ref - J Keenan (Wicklow).

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