Electric McManus pulls plug on another shock
Antrim 3-18 Westmeath 2-13 Leinster SHC
Antrim avenged their shock defeat at the same venue a year ago with a deserved eight-point win over Westmeath in their preliminary-round clash at Cusack Park, Mullingar.
Conditions were ideal for hurling and the Ulster side started very impressively – they were full value for their 0-4 to 0-1 lead after seven minutes, with Neil McManus and Shane McNaughton already looking sharp.
However, a great goal from lively Westmeath corner-forward Niall O'Brien tied up the scoring in the 10th minute.
McManus responded quickly with a well-taken goal, availing of untidy defending by the men in maroon and white.
Westmeath got into their stride at this juncture with Eoin Price prominent in midfield and championship debutant Gary Greville outstanding in defence, and they took the lead for the first time via Derek McNicholas in the 19th minute.
The home side had wind advantage in the first half, but they missed some good opportunities to increase their lead, particularly a great chance of a goal which fell to Aonghus Clarke in the 26th minute.
It took some fine defending to keep out a goalbound McManus effort in first-half injury-time but, on the run of play, Brian Hanley's charges should have been more than two points (1-9 to 1-7) ahead at the break.
The midlanders increased their lead within 20 seconds of the restart when Price scored a fine point and another surprise looked on the cards.
However, they only managed a point from a Derek McNicholas penalty in the 38th minute – after Niall O'Brien was fouled – whereas Antrim scored a goal from a similar award when Conor Carson was upended four minutes later, with man of the match McManus giving Peter Collins and his two defenders absolutely no chance from the spot.
In truth, Kevin Ryan's troops looked the more likely winners from that moment on, with more scoring options throughout the pitch.
The winners were not fazed by the bizarre sending off of substitute Karl Stewart, within seconds of his introduction in the 50th minute, rattling over an unanswered five points thereafter.
Westmeath were also reduced to 14 men with 15 minutes remaining when the influential McNicholas picked up a second yellow card.
Antrim's superior skill and workrate began to show in the final quarter and Carson's opportunist goal in the 58th minute effectively sealed a second-round outing against Laois as he put his side seven points ahead, 3-12 to 1-11.
Despite a late goal from Tommy Doyle, now operating in attack, Westmeath never looked like clawing back that deficit and Antrim substitutes Shay Casey and Ciaran Clarke made the scoresheet in a lacklustre closing period.
SCORERS – Antrim: N McManus 2-4 (1-0 pen), S McNaughton 0-5 (2fs, 1'65'), C Carson 1-0, J McGreevey, E McCloskey 0-2 each, M Donnelly, T McCloskey, P Shiels, C Clarke, S Casey 0-1 each. Westmeath: D McNicholas 0-5 (2fs, 1 pen), E Price 0-4, T Doyle, N O'Brien 1-0 each, B Murtagh 0-2, R Greville, A Clarke 0-1 each.
ANTRIM – R McGarry 7; B McFall 6, A Graffin 6, M McFadden 6; C McKinley 6, N McAuley 6, J McGreevey 7; M Donnelly 6, T McCloskey 6; P Shiels 6, N McManus 8, E McCloskey 7; S McNaughton 7, C Carson 5, S Beattie 4. Subs: C McGuinness 6 for Beattie (21), O McFadden 6 for M McFadden (39), K Stewart 3 for McGuinness (48), C Clarke 6 for Donnelly (58), S Casey 6 for McNaughton (65).
WESTMEATH – P Collins 6; T Gallagher 6, A Price 5, D Fennell 6; G Greville 7, A McGrath 5, T Doyle 7; E Price 7, R Greville 6; J Shaw 5, D McNicholas 6, J Clarke 6; N O'Brien 7, B Murtagh 6, A Clarke 5. Subs: C Jordan 6 for Price (63), J Boyle for J Clarke (67), S Power for Fennell (inj 67).
REF – J Owens (Wexford)