Wednesday 22 November 2017

Galway stay cool to extinguish brave Westmeath revival

Leinster SHC

JUST when you expected a garda to come along and usher onlookers away from a scene of hurling carnage, the mortally wounded Westmeath almost did a Lazarus job at Cusack Park yesterday.

The home team had been mugged, battered and almost totally dismembered -- in a pure hurling sense -- by a grimly purposeful Galway team that seemed intent on breaking scoring records.

Leading by 1-12 to 0-4 at half-time, the Tribesmen, wearing white because of a colour clash, missed the target only five times in the opening half.

Optimistic Westmeath supporters had hoped against hope that somehow the overwhelming favourites would turn up and sleepwalk their way through the match.

No chance. Anthony Cunningham's men sprung from the traps and got busy keeping the scoreboard going clickety-click, point after point. A 25th-minute goal by substitute James Regan was duly followed by more points.

Westmeath were feeding off scraps, with only four points to show for their first-half efforts, three by county minor Niall O'Brien and one by Brendan Murtagh.

Indeed, were it not for U-21 goalkeeper Shane McGovern pulling off fine saves from four goal-bound shots, Westmeath might well have been beaten out of sight by half-time.

But whatever Galway native Brian Hanley, manager of the home team, said at half time, the effect was to change the mood and performance of Westmeath in the second half.

The home side made good use of the wind to send long, searching balls deep into the heart of the Galway defence, where Galway goalkeeper Fergal Flannery was making his debut.

Flannery needed more protection from the men in front of him, as Westmeath plundered four goals and outscored Galway by 4-8 to 4-7 in the second half. The goals came from O'Brien (two), one by Murtagh from a penalty, and midfielder Joe Clarke.

Impressive and confidence-building as that second-half showing was, it was never going to cause an upset.

Galway always had the moves and the power to bite back with each Westmeath hammer blow, but it was certainly food for thought for Cunningham.

The Tribesmen manager kept injured star Joe Cooney out of the game. Cooney incurred a shoulder ligament injury in a challenge against Clare last week, and is likely to be fit for the semi-final against Offaly, so there was no point pushing him to play yesterday.

His place was taken by Conor Cooney (no relation), and Joe wasn't missed on the day.

Cunningham commented: "First of all congratulations to Westmeath. They have tremendous work done under Brian (Hanley) and that was evident in their stick work, and the scores they got, some of which were excellent.

"We leaked a few in the defence, which we'll have to sharpen up on. It was a combination of maybe one or two (goals) that we could have kept out and some good play by Westmeath.

"But there's no point in getting carried away. The big score we clocked up is a positive, but there's loads of work to do, and we are facing Offaly, which will be some battle."

Veteran forward Damien Hayes was pragmatic.

"Westmeath have come on in leaps and bounds. It's our first outing and it was all basically just about coming up here to win the game and that's all we'll take from it.

"We have a mix of youth and old (heads), we've put in a good effort, so it was important to come up here and just do a job," he said.

Westmeath boss Hanley fielded a side with seven U-21 players, three of them minors once substitute Tommy Gallagher joined the fray, and had mixed emotions about the game.

"We probably didn't defend as good as we did against Antrim, but we take a lot of positives from it. We won the second half with that wind, but every time we got into it in the second half we gave them a score back.

"It's very hard to rate that game. Our goals and aims aren't going to be as high as Galway's goals and aims. To that end we're happy.

"We want to push on from here and target the next game, that's all we can do," said Hanley

Galway's Niall Burke missed a few chances in the second half but contributed 0-8 to his side, six from frees and two '65s'. Their goals came from David Burke (two), James Regan, Andy Smith, and Cyril Donnellan.

Westmeath were well served by Niall O'Brien, Murtagh, Robbie Greville, Eoin Price, Joe Clarke, and the young goalkeeper McGovern.

Scorers -- Galway: N Burke 0-8 (6f, 2 65), D Burke 2-1, J Regan 1-2, A Smith 1-1, C Donnellan 1-1, C Cooney, D Hayes, I Tannian, 0-2 each. Westmeath: N O'Brien 2-7 (7f), B Murtagh 1-1 (1-0f), P Dowdall 1-0, P Greville, J Shaw, E Price, D Fennell 0-1 each.

Galway -- F Flannery 7; F Moore 7, K Hynes 7, N Donoghue 7; P Gordon 7, T Og Regan 7, J Coen 7; I Tannian 7, D Burke 7; A Smith 7, N Burke 8, C Donnellan 7; D Glennon 7, C Cooney 7, D Hayes 7. Subs: J Regan 8 for Glennon (21); J Glynn 7 for Cooney (50); B Flaherty 7 for Gordon (52); R Cummins 7 for Donnellan (61); P Brehony for N Burke (69).

Westmeath -- S McGovern 8; C Jordan 6, A Price 6, P Fennell 6; P Dowdall 7, A McGrath 7, P Greville 7; A Clarke 7, J Clarke 7; B Murtagh 7, F Boyle 7, R Greville 7; N O'Brien 8, J Shaw 7, E Price 7. Subs: J Gilligan 7 for Boyle (35); D Fennell 6 for J Clarke (61); T Gallagher for Jordan (67).

Ref -- J Owens (Tipperary).

Irish Independent

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