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Antrim surge to classy win

By Declan Bogue

Westmeath 2-13 Antrim 3-18: Considering where they were last year when they came to Cusack Park and were shocked by a 0-14 to 0-12 defeat to these hosts, Antrim's Leinster Championship is already a roaring success after a second half in which they demonstrated they were a class above Westmeath.

They now go on to play Laois on May 18, another away day in Portlaoise. Should they win that, it would double their total victories they had gained since being admitted to the Leinster tournament, all within the space of a fortnight.

This was far from a flawless performance, but in getting over the first hurdle here, Antrim manager Kevin Ryan will have a much greater idea of what he has at his disposal, as well as blooding promising youngsters such as Jackson McGreevey and Ciaran Clarke.

Antrim moved into a three-point lead after the first 10 minutes. Their ebullience was punctured however when a loose ball fell to Westmeath corner forward Niall O'Brien and Mark McFadden failed to make up the ground between them as he rifled past Saffrons goalkeeper Ryan McGarry.

Antrim were determined to wrestle control and at that stage were coasting the hook/block count, although this was to be squared up at seven each by half time.

Robbie Greville was ponderous in clearing the sliotar downfield and when it popped into Matthew Donnelly's hand he sent McManus through and he rocketed it to the net.

It would be 10 more minutes before the next Antrim score and in that period Westmeath turned back the flow of play. Derek McNicholas was accurate from play and frees, and on one memorable occasion a short puck-out was controlled by Antrim centre back Neal McAuley but before he could clear, McNicholas had him robbed and the ball between the sticks.

Shane McNaughton was manfully bearing responsibility at wing-forward and he was keeping them in it, but Conor Carson missed a couple of big chances. However, a late McManus point left them just two adrift at half-time, 1-9 to 1-7.

Just after the break Aaron Graffin conceded a penalty for a foul on O'Brien. Derek McNicholas however drove the shot straight at Ryan McGarry who deflected it over the bar for a point.

The next play brought a searching high ball from Shane McNaughton into Carson, and this time Adam Price hauled the big Cushendall man to the ground. McManus wasn't charitable with the resultant penalty, burying it past Peter Collins in the Westmeath goal.

From that point Antrim reeled over another 1-5 unanswered scores, McGreevey levelling after the penalty and Eddie McCloskey finally getting Antrim back in front.

There were anxious moments after Karl Stewart replaced Chris McGuinness. With the ball out of play, he was welcomed to the game with a traditional greeting by Doyle, but the Westmeath player ended up on the floor after the exchanges. After consulting with his linesman, referee James Owens awarded Stewart a straight red card.

However, it failed to put Antrim out of their stride. When an O'Brien shot fell short to McGarry in the 58th minute, he calmly picked out Eddie McCloskey, who sent it onto Carson to fire into the net.

It was a brutal lesson in finishing for Westmeath, and despite a few more exchanged scores, it effectively wrapped up the result.

ANTRIM: R McGarry; B McFall, A Graffin, M McFadden; C McKinley, N McAuley, P Shiels (0-1); J McGreevey (0-2), T McCloskey (0-1); S Beattie, M Donnelly (0-1), E McCloskey (0-2); S McNaughton (0-5, [2xf, 1x '65']), C Carson (1-0), N McManus (2-4, [1-0xpen]). Subs: C McGuinness for Beattie [21m], O McFadden for M McFadden [38m], K Stewart for McGuinness [48m] C Clarke (0-1), for Donnelly [58m], S Casey (0-1) for McNaughton [65m]

WESTMEATH: P Collins; T Gallagher, A Price, D Fennell; G Greville, A McGrath, T Doyle (1-0); E Price (0-4), R Greville (0-1); J Shaw, D McNicholas (0-5, [2xf]), J Clarke; N O'Brien (1-0), B Murtagh (0-2), A Clarke (0-1). Subs: C Jordan for A Price [63m], J Boyle for Clarke, S Power for D Fennell [67m].

Referee: James Owens [Wexford].

Belfast Telegraph


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