Saffrons can’t reproduce that Tullamore spirit

Joe McDonagh Cup

Antrim 0-21 Westmeath 0-29

By John McIlwaine

Antrim’s bid for a place in the Joe McDonagh Cup final came up short in Dunloy today as the Saffrons failed to produce the heroics of last week’s win over Offaly while going down to a very good Westmeath side. The home side were flat from the start and could not reproduce the form of the previous week and it was clear from the start that Westmeath had their homework done and executed their game plan perfectly as they closed down danger man Neill McManus. They were up for the fight from the start and in a stop-start game free taker Killian Doyle gave an exhibition, ending up with 17 points to his name, eleven of them from placed balls. The free taking of McManus was also faultless with the Cushendall man accounting for the bulk of the Antrim scores with 13 points. In their previous games in the competion the Saffrons forwards scored some great goals, but this time around the never really threatened Conor Lynch in the Westmeath goal. Things went from bad to worse for Antrim in the second half as they lost both Matthew Donnelly and David Kearney to second yellow cards, but in truth there was little to suggest that either player warranted red.

Antrim had started promisingly enough and were ahead twice in the early minutes through Neill McManus frees, but Doyle had an answer on each occasion and two quick scores from the centre forward in the eight minute had the visitors 0-4 to 0-2 clear. Keelan Molly pointed for Antrim to close the gap to a single point but Westmeath were soon back in charge as Doyle popped over two more from frees. McManus kept Antrim in touch with his faultless free taking but at the first half entered its final stages the men from the Lake County got a firm grip on the game as they pulled clear to lead by six at half time. (0-9 to 0-15)

While the opening half had been short of scores from play the start of the second half heralded a different pattern and it was tit for tat for a short while. James McNaughton got in for an excellent score but the forwards could never quite get going against an excellent Westmeath defence. Two from Joey Boyle and one from Cormac Boyle in reply to two from McManus frees edged the Leinster men further ahead and it was clear Antrim would need something special to get back into the game. A long range point from a McManus free and one from play by McNaughton a minute later temporarily raised spirits as it closed the gap to six, but the momentum was soon killed again as Westmeath got two points from frees.   

Antrim’s slim chance got a lot slimmer when Matthew Donnelly was shown a second yellow card after a foul on Robbie Greville. In truth it appeared harsh and when David Kearney followed suit soon afterwards the hill they had to climb was now a mountain.

The thirteen men kept battling to the end and substitute Eoin O’Neill hit an injury time point to cut the gap back to seven but man of the match Doyle wrapped it up for the visitors with a cracking solo score to steer his team home with relative ease.

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, John Dillon, Stephen Rooney; Matthew Donnelly, Paddy Burke (0-1), Joe Maskey; David Kearney, Nicky McKeague (0-1, 0-1 “65”); Neil McManus (0-13, 0-12f, 0-1 “65”), Ryan McCambridge, Keelan Molloy (0-1); Ciaran Clarke, Nigel Elliott (0-1), James McNaughton (0-3).

Subs: Eoghan Campbell for Duffin (28), Conor Boyd for Joe Maskey (46), Daniel McCloskey for McCambridge (51), Eoin O’Neill (0-1) for Elliott (58), James O’Connell for Clarke (68).

Westmeath: Conor Lynch; Darragh Egerton, Gary Greville; Liam Varley, Aonghus Clarke, Paul Greville (0-1); Shane Clavin, John Gilligan; Cormac Boyle (0-2), Killian Doyle (0-17, 0-9f, 0-2 “65”), Joey Boyle (0-1); Robbie Greville (0-3), Derek McNicholas (0-1) Allan Devine (0-1).

Subs: Ciaran Doyle (0-2) for McNicholas (46), Darragh Clinton (0-1) for Devine (68), Shane McGovern for C Boyle (69), Conor Shaw for J Boyle (70 + 5).

Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow)

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