Pressure off for Ryan ahead of play-off tie
Westmeath 0-10 Carlow 0-8
Westmeath landed the Division 2A title in Tullamore on Saturday as the Lake County battled both Carlow and the wintry elements to edge out a tight, dogged and low-scoring contest.
They now move on to play the loser of the Division 1B relegation final between Kerry and Laois next weekend and another win for Michael Ryan's charges would see them ultimately gain promotion to Division 1B.
"We will go and have a look at them next weekend but I am expecting us to play with a bit more freedom now. A lot of the pressure is off us today," said the Westmeath boss. "Darren McCormack told me he played on six teams that played in league finals but they lost all six. We can hurl with a bit of freedom now. We have two weeks to get ready for it and it will be a formidable task."
Strong winds and driving rain battered O'Connor Park but it was the Westmeath men who kicked on for the win. They led 0-9 to 0-3 at the break but despite having the better of the opening half and having played with the wind, they needed three late points in the half, with Brendan Murtagh to the fore, to give them that six-point cushion.
Despite only scoring a single point in the second half from a Brendan Murtagh '65, Ryan was delighted with the application of his charges, particularly when their backs were to the wall against the wind in the second half.
"We are thrilled. It was some battle here today. We had it all to do in the second half playing against the wind but the lads were outstanding and I am delighted for everyone involved in hurling in Westmeath.
"The conditions were dreadful and the public who were not at the game probably won't realise how bad they were. It was a tribute to both teams. It was a great battle. I was delighted we played with the heart, commitment and our hurling ability."
Carlow made a fast start to the second half but spurned three goal chances. Westmeath weathered that storm and dug deep as they hunted in packs to put pressure on the Carlow shooters.
Brendan Murtagh's '65 in the 42nd minute was the first and Westmeath's only score of the second half and the game was heading for the final quarter when James Doyle ended a 35-minute scoreless spell for Carlow with a well-taken point.
Kevin McDonald landed four frees coming into the final stretch to make the last few minutes nerve-tingling for Westmeath supporters but that goal proved elusive for Carlow.
Scorers - Westmeath: B Murtagh 0-7 (5f, 2 '65s), A Devine, E Price & C Boyle 0-1 each. Carlow: K McDonald 0-4f, M Kavanagh 0-3 (0-2f), J Doyle 0-1.
WESTMEATH - P Moloney 7; T Gallagher 8, T Doyle 9, S Power 7; A Craig 8, A Clarke 8, A McGrath 7; G Greville 7, C Boyle 8; L Varley 6, D McNicholas 6, R Greville 6; A Devine 6, B Murtagh 8, E Price 6. Subs: N O'Brien 6 for McNicholas (23), N Dowdall 6 for R Greville (57), D Egerton 6 for Devine (61).
CARLOW - J Barron 7; A Corcoran 6, M Ryan 7, G Coady 6; D Byrne 7, D English 8, J O'Hara 7; J Kavanagh 6, M Kavanagh 6; Seán Murphy 6, MJ Nolan 6, K McDonald 7; J Doyle 7, Seamus Murphy 6, S Whelan 6. Subs: R Kelly 7 for Whelan (h-t), R Smithers 6 for Seán Murphy (49).
Ref - J Keane (Galway)