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Shiels plays pivotal role as Antrim impress

Antrim 0-23 Westmeath 2-11: Antrim got their Leinster SHC round-robin campaign off to a winning start with a six-point victory over 13-man Westmeath at Ballycastle yesterday.

Aaron Craig saw red for a second bookable offence on 47 minutes and was followed to the sideline by Tommy Gallagher on 65 minutes after a straight red for a high challenge on Odhran McFadden.

The game remained in the melting pot until the closing stages, although Antrim, after recovering from a poor start, led for most of the game.

Westmeath began the brighter and were 0-4 to no score ahead after six minutes. Corner forward Niall O'Brien opened the scoring after just 15 seconds and added two more frees to Eoin Price's dead ball effort.

Antrim got off the mark through Paul Shiels, and by the 20th minute had gotten back on level terms at 0-6 apiece when PJ O'Connell slotted over from play.

In between, Price and O'Brien provided the main threat for the visitors, with O'Brien coming closest to the game's first goal on 12 minutes but his close range shot was well blocked by Neal McAuley.

Antrim took the lead for the first time when Shiels pointed and Ciaran Clarke made it 0-8 to 0-6 on 24 minutes.

Westmeath were back in front moments later. Derek McNicholas rattled the back of the Antrim net after being set up by Alan Devine, but four Antrim points without reply had the Saffrons three to the good as the short whistle approached.

Westmeath's Noel Conaty had a superb effort saved by Chrissy O'Connell between the Antrim posts but two Ciaran Curley points reduced the gap to one at half-time, with Antrim leading 0-12 to 1-8.

With Shiels in fine form from placed balls, Antrim stretched to a six-point lead, 0-18 to 1-9, after 56 minutes, with Ciaran Clarke adding his third from play.

A 1-1 salvo from McNicholas in the space of a minute had the gap back to the minimum, however Antrim again responded well to the goal, notching the next two points before Gallagher saw red.

Price converted Westmeath's last score of the day before a Shiels brace and a point from play from substitute Niall McKenna sealed a deserved win for the home side in what was the first ever Leinster SHC game to be played in Ulster.

Antrim: C O'Connell; O McFadden, C McKinley, Ciaran Johnson; E Campbell (0-2), N McAuley, N McManus (0-1); D Hamill (0-1), B McFall; C Carson, P Shiels (0-12, 0-10f), S Beatty; C Clarke (0-3), M Donnelly, PJ O Connell (0-3). Subs: A Graffin for S Beatty, C McCann for M Donnelly, S McCrory for B McFall, S McAfee for C Carson, N McKenna (0-1) for D Hamill

Westmeath: P Collins; K Duncan, T Doyle, L Varley, G Greville, A Craig, T Gallagher; C Curley (0-2), E Price (0-3, 0-2f); R Greville, A Devine, D Gavin, N Conaty, D McNicholas (2-1), N O'Brien (0-5, 0-4f). Subs: A Clarke for N Conaty, D Lynch for D Gavin

Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary)

Belfast Telegraph