McIntyre's Galway fail to inspire confidence
As John McIntyre put it, Saturday evening's trip to Cusack Park was a "no-win" scenario for Galway -- and it could, literally, have been just that.
Ten Westmeath wides in the first half, compounded by another five after the restart undid any hope the home side had of winning a first championship clash with the Connacht side in four attempts, dating back to 1975.
Despite that profligacy, John Shaw pulled them level with 12 minutes to go. The county councillor's score was initially waved wide by an umpire, but awarded after referee Anthony Stapleton consulted both umpires and a linesman. By then, though, the Westmeath tank was empty and Galway stretched for home, reeling off six points on the bounce to help secure their passage to a Leinster semi-final date with Dublin.
For a side that hadn't managed a single win in their league campaign and face Division 3 hurling next year, Westmeath were immense.
Interim Lake County boss Brian Hanley, who replaced Kevin Martin with a game to go in that dismal league campaign, stated afterwards that they had identified areas of weakness in McIntyre's side and chipped away at them continuously.
"We had different plans with different players and the big advantage you have in Westmeath is that they are very strong in the air and it is a huge bonus," said Hanley, who has three All-Ireland club winner's medals to his name.
"And I said it to John McIntyre in their dressing-room, that hasn't been a strength of Galway hurling's in recent years. We exposed that and I hope that will bring on Galway and help them get over the line."
Westmeath led just once in the game, when dual star Paul Greville landed a fourth consecutive point to put them 0-4 to 0-3 up after 10 minutes, but Galway got the game's opening goal when the home side failed to clear their lines and Cyril Donnellan raced away for the first of his three majors. Aonghus Callanan also found the net after the half-hour mark and Galway looked to be in cruise-control.
The home side rode their luck on occasion in the opening 35 minutes.
Galway hit the woodwork three times in the opening half, while they conceded a soft goal just before the break when Derek McNicholas got the slightest of touches on Andrew Mitchell's dropping free to reduce the gap to just three points at the interval (2-7 to 1-7).
Adam Price scrambled a Joe Gantley goal attempt off the line on the resumption, but it was the least Westmeath deserved as they managed to respond each time Galway found the net.
After the impressive David Burke and Ciaran Curley swapped points, Donnellan put six between the sides again when he raised his second green flag.
But Westmeath then produced their best period, outscoring Galway by 1-4 to 0-1 over the next 10 minutes -- including Shaw's disputed score -- to tie the game up inside the final quarter.
And while Galway replied with 1-7 between then and the final whistle -- aided by the introduction of Joe Canning, who took over the troublesome free-taking duties -- McIntyre acknowledged that they have much improving to do before they tackle Dublin.
"We've a mountain of work to do," McIntyre agreed. "Everyone in the squad is very well grounded. How could you get carried away with that (performance)? We're very united in that Galway dressing-room. I'm sure there'll be flak flying around the place, but we'll stay together.
"We know we weren't good tonight and that it'll be nowhere near good enough to compete with Dublin, but I think you'll see a different Galway in two weeks' time."
"It was a classic 'no-win' fixture for us and that's how it transpired. A lot of people will be writing off Galway completely after tonight, but that's not my problem. We came up here to get the job done, that's what we've done. We're in the Leinster semi-final, that was our basic plan this morning and nothing has changed.
"I was quite calm on the sideline. I had complete trust in our players that they would pull the game out of the fire. We had to bring on a few players to help us do it, but that's why you have a strong panel. The end result is that we are in a Leinster semi-final."
Westmeath manager Hanley, who faced three of the Liam Mellows clubmen he manages at club level in Galway, believes the Lake men will deliver another big performance before their interest in the championship ends.
"I won't be hoping (for a big performance), I'll be expecting it," he insisted.
"Hoping went out the window before the Carlow game. We had three games and we had enough work done, we had no excuses. Our excuse today? We don't have one. We weren't physically fit enough and we didn't take our chances. People talk about composure, that's not an excuse, but we just didn't do it.
"We went down seven, eight or nine points and with 12 minutes to go we were still level, which is a credit to them considering all the wides and the things that went wrong.
"Your heart would go out to them, they didn't deserve to be beaten by so much."
Scorers -- Galway: C Donnellan 3-1, A Callanan 1-1 (1f), D Hayes 0-4, J Canning (3f), D Burke (2f) 0-3 each, J Gantley 0-2, A Smith, B Daly, E Ryan 0-1 each. Westmeath: B Murtagh 0-5 (5f), P Greville 1-1, D McNicholas 1-0, D Carty 0-2, C Curley, B Smyth, E Price, A Mitchell ('65'), P Dowdall, J Shaw 0-1 each.
Galway -- J Skehill 6; D Joyce 6, D Collins 6, F Moore 6; J Coen 6, J Lee 6, A Cullinane 6; D Burke 8, K Hynes 6; B Daly 6, C Donnellan 9, A Smith 6; D Hayes 8, J Gantley 7, A Callanan 6 Subs: E Ryan 7 for Smith (47), S Kavanagh 6 for Cullinane (52), T Og Regan 6 for Lee (54), J Canning 6 for Callanan (57).
Westmeath -- C Scally 6; C Flanagan 6, D McCormack 7, A McGrath 7; E Price 8, A Mitchell 7, P Gilsenan 7; N Flanagan 7, B Smyth 8; C Curley 6, P Greville 7, B Murtagh 7; J Shaw 6, D McNicholas 6, D Carty 7. Subs: A Price 7 for C Flanagan (34), P Dowdall 6 for N Flanagan (51), J Gilligan 6 for McGrath (61), A Dermody 6 for Carty (64), A Craig for McNicholas (71).
REF -- A Stapleton (Laois).