Saffrons fall to Westmeath in low scoring Walsh Cup game

Walsh Cup, Group One 

Westmeath 0-15 Antrim 0-13 

Saturday 14th January

Antrim fell to a two point defeat to Westmeath on Saturday afternoon as they played out a feisty encounter with the Lake County.

In a contest that threatened to boil over on a number of occasions, the Saffrons played the last 20 minutes down to 14 men.  Substitute Conal Bohill seeing red to leave Darren Gleeson’s men with an uphill task in the final quarter.

While the numerical disadvantage didn’t help, it wasn’t the main reason for the defeat.  Both sides hit plenty of wides, Antrim with more and a number of frees going wayward.  While it was a winter day in Dublin, it wasn’t the worse conditions with a cross field wind helping neither side and the surface at the Abbotstown venue was like a carpet but the Saffrons just couldn’t get any attacking fluency.

Defensively, Antrim were solid.  Conceding nine points from open play and 15 overall is a fair return and will win you most games of hurling but it was the opposite end of the pitch where the problems lay and Antrim manager Darren was making no excuses for his sides performances: “The wind was sweeping across the field and all that, but when you’re playing at this level you use it to your advantage,” he insisted.

“You’re shooting at the wrong posts if they’re constantly going wide that side. It’s disappointing to have 13 or 14 wides, a lot from placed balls, but overall it was a very disappointing day and I’m very disappointed with it.”

Antrim opened this game very brightly with Michael Bradley lashing over within 40 seconds and Niall McKenna adding another from deep on the left moments later.

The Sarsfield’s man had a sight of goal soon after but was hooked and his effort went out for a 65 that resulted in the first of seven first-half wides for the Saffrons.

Westmeath had just as many in the opening period but they began to settle with free-taker Niall O’Brien landing three placed balls to give Joe Fortune’s men the lead on 11 minutes.

Just prior to that, Westmeath’s Shane McGovern and Antrim’s Gerard Walsh were cautioned after a bit of a fire-up that appeared to begin with Walsh seething at comments he heard in his direction.

Westmeath’s first from play arrived on 20 minutes through Niall Mitchell with Eoin Keyes adding another within seconds, but a barren 22 minutes for Antrim came to an end with James McNaughton converting a free and then McKenna hit his second of the day.

O’Brien hit his fourth of the half with McNaughton replaying and Gerard Walsh then levelling from deep.

The sides traded late points to go in at the break locked on 0-7, but again tensions were frayed towards the end of the half as Westmeath’s Aaron Gray picked up a yellow.

The trend continued in the second period with scores at a premium, but Antrim were first on the board as Michael Bradley arrived a perfect ball into younger brother Aaron who split the posts from a tight angle on the left.

McNaughton had a shot at goal that was saved out for a 65 that would go wide, but Westmeath free-taker O’Brien was not having the same issues as he levelled.

The Loughgiel man did point to restore the Antrim advantage, but Westmeath began to make the most of their opportunities with Keys coming into his own, cracking over a further three points to bring his tally to four for the day, O’Brien tapping over a free and Davy Glennon launching over a missile from deep.

A brace from Eoin O’Neill and one from McKenna was the Antrim response as the gap was one with six to play despite the Saffrons playing with 14, but O’Brien got his first from play and seventh overall and Joseph Boyle adding another to leave a goal in it in injury-time.

A McNaughton pointed free was all Antrim could muster as they came up short for the second week running.

Next up for Antrim is a McGurk Cup semi-final on Monday at Owenbeg against Donegal (7.30pm) before their final Walsh Cup game against Galway at Darver next Saturday (2pm) and Gleeson is hoping for a marked improvement from his side. 

“You’re in the middle of a heavy training programme and the lads have played a lot of games,” he accepted.

“A few played a bit of McGurk Cup and the game last week against Dublin, but you’re on a really good surface here today and dry conditions. 

“The retention rate of the ball up front was shocking and we conceded just 15 points. Had you told me coming down we’d concede that you would think you’re winning the game, but to score just 13 with a lot of chances is disappointing.

“There were a few goal opportunities there as well, but wrong options (taken) and bad passes… We’ve a few weeks to straighten that out, but that is a disappointing performance to say the least.”

WESTMEATH: N Conaty; D Egerton, C Shaw, T Doyle; A Craig, S Clavin, K Regan; J Gallagher, S McGovern; N Mitchell (0-1), E Keys (0-4), J Boyle (0-1); N O’Brien (0-7, 6f), S Williams (0-1), P Clarke

Subs: G Greville for S Clavin (19), D Williams for A Craig (HT), D Glennon (0-1) for S Williams (HT), M Cunningham for P Clarke (HT), E Daly for J Gallagher (48), R Holding for C Shaw (69), E Cunneen for E Keys (69)

ANTRIM: T Smyth; D McMullan, P Burke, N O’Connor; M Bradley (0-1), E Campbell, G Walsh (0-1); J Maskey, D McKernan; P Boyle, E O’Neill (0-2), N McKenna (0-3); R McMullan, J McNaughton (0-5f), A Bradley (0-1).

Subs: S McAuley for R McMullan (48), C Bohill for P Boyle (48), E McAlonan for J Maskey (57), C McKernan for A Bradley (57), S Walsh for G Walsh (60), E Trainor for D McKernan (65)

REFEREE: Shane Guinan (Offaly)

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