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National Hurling League: Westmeath 2-9 Antrim 2-13

Antrim struggled to put away 13-man Westmeath before emerging by a four-point margin in a poor standard fifth round tie in Division Two of the National Hurling League, played in front of a very small crowd at Cusack Park, Mullingar yesterday afternoon.

Westmeath started the brighter and were 0-2 to 0-0 ahead after 11 minutes before Karl Stewart opened Antrim’s account.

Six scoreless minutes ensued with scrappy hurling the order of the day before full forward Conor Carson got a touch to a long range free from Stewart and deflected the ball to the net.

The same player displayed his opportunistic instincts again in the 27th minute when he poked the ball home following a scooped effort goalwards by Michael Armstrong, to put Dinny Cahill's men five points to the good.

A minute before the break, Alan Devine nabbed the home team’s only score from play in the opening half when he found the net from point blank range after Sean Hawes was unable to deal with John Shaw's delivery.

One of many fine frees from centre half back Andrew Mitchell levelled the game in added-time, making it 2-2 to 1-5.

With Shane McNaughton the best player on show in the midfield area, Antrim looked marginally the better outfit and four unanswered points had the visitors a goal to the good by the 44th minute.

However, Westmeath were rewarded when Alan Devine teed up Dan Carty for a well-taken goal in the 62nd minute to edge the Lake County ahead.

The teams were level at 2-9 apiece when the game turned in the Saffrons’ favour when the home side’s Brendan Murtagh was dismissed on a second yellow card with 10 minutes remaining.

Three minutes later, Brian Smyth joined his colleague in the dug-out, this time on a straight red.

The visitors pulled away with four late points from Neil McManus (two, including a free), James Black and Karl Stewart to secure a precious brace of league points, thereby leaving Westmeath in serious danger of relegation to Division Three in 2012.

Antrim manager Cahill was not overly impressed by what he’d witnessed.

“It was a disappointing game of hurling and a long way off championship standard,” he said afterwards.

“We’ve done no outdoor hurling, only gym work and the long evenings out on pitches will improve the hurling for the squad in the future.”

Westmeath: Burke, Price, McCormack, McGrath, Shaw, Mitchell (0-4, 3fs, 1 '65'), Gilsenan, Clarke, Flanagan, Curley, Smyth, Dowdall, Devine (1-0), Murtagh, Carty (1-4, 4fs). Subs: Price (0-1) (for Curley, h/t), Scally (for Burke, 56), Mackey (for Dowdall, 69).

Antrim: Hawes, McGourty, Shannon, Molloy, Graffin, Herron, McCouaig, McCrory, McNaughton (0-2), McManus (0-7, 4fs), Stewart (0-3), Armstrong, Hamill, Carson (2-0), Fall. Subs: Black (0-1, for Armstrong, h/t), McGuiness (for Fall, 50), P Shiels (for Hamill, 50).

Referee: D O’Driscoll (Limerick).

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