Devine stars as Westmeath put dent in Antrim's armour
Antrim 1-15 Westmeath 0-20
Antrim's hurlers will contest this weekend's National Hurling League 2A final against Carlow, but they will not go into that game in the manner they would have hoped following their two -point defeat to Westmeath at a sunny Cushendall yesterday.
Prior to throw-in, the permutations meant only a crazy sequence of results would deny the Saffrons their shot at promotion and with Carlow defeating Armagh, it rendered the outcome of Antrim's game somewhat inconsequential, although they will not be happy with their defeat in a game dominated by the free-takers.
Westmeath's Allan Devine hit 12 points, 11 from placed balls while Antrim's Deaglan Murphy converted 10 frees as-well-as two from play.
Antrim were unhappy with some of the decisions from referee, Justin Heffernan who gave Ciaran Johnston a straight red card for a foul on Darragh Egerton on 45 minutes, but Westmeath were worthy winners on the day as the more cohesive side.
The duel between Devine and Murphy began from the start with both responsible for all of their side's scores in the opening 19 minutes as the visitors went into a 0-5 to 0-3 lead before Westmeath's Aonghus Clarke got in on the act with a score followed by two more Devine frees to open a five point gap.
Antrim were struggling in attack with Murphy clipping over another free before they got their first score from play, a goal, on 28 minutes.
It proved to be the only goal of the game after Paul Shiels' long delivery was taken in stride by Ciaran Clarke who raced through and found the net.
Westmeath replied with points from Jack Galvin and Derek McNicholas before Conor Johnston responded for Antrim and three more Murphy points - one from play - in response to Clarke's second of the day left the sides tied at the break, 1-8 to 0-11.
The trend continued after the break with Devine and Murphy hitting five points apiece to leave the sides level with 13 to play. Johnston then got his marching orders on 45 minutes for a late hit on Egerton which upset Antrim's balance at a time they looked like they could make some headway.
Another Westmeath free, this time from centre back Paul Greville, edged the visitors ahead once again with Niall O'Brien then hitting two in quick succession.
A Niall McKenna score reduced the gap back to two, but Devine cancelled this out from a free to leave Antrim chasing a goal to level late on.
They did have a couple of chances from close in frees, but Neil McManus saw his first effort stopped and cleared before his second flashed over the bar to leave Antrim two adrift at the final whistle and looking for a big improvement ahead of Saturday's final.
Scorers: Antrim: McManus (0-1 free), Johnston (0-1); C Clarke (1-0), Murphy (0-12, 10 frees). Subs: McKenna (0-1)
Westmeath: Greville (0-1 free), Clarke (0-2), Devine (0-12, 11 frees), O'Brien (0-2); Galvin (0-1), McNicholas (0-2)
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Wexford)