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Westmeath into final as Saffrons fall at very end

Westmeath 2-19 Antrim 1-20

By Conor McKenna

Westmeath overcame a gallant Antrim side on a scoreline of 2-19 to 1-20 to book their place in the Joe McDonagh Cup final, in what was a thrilling game of hurling in TEG Cusack Park.

Neil McManus, who was outstanding for the Saffrons throughout, opened the scoring with a point in the opening minute.

Allan Devine responded for Westmeath with a short-range free and it was tit-for-tat in the opening 10 minutes, with both sides cancelling each other out on numerous occasions.

Antrim then opened up a three-point lead courtesy of points from McManus (2) and Conor Johnston, before the home side grabbed the games opening goal courtesy of full forward Ciaran Doyle, who rebounded to the net after Eoin Price's initial effort was saved superbly.

A free from Devine put the Lake County in the lead, before Antrim levelled courtesy of Conor McCann.

Two scores from Devine and Ciaran Doyle put Westmeath two points ahead, before McManus levelled for Antrim.

An outstanding score from Westmeath centre back Paul Greville followed, with John Dillon replying with a point for Antrim.

Westmeath then added three points courtesy of Ciaran Doyle, Niall O'Brien and Liam Varley, before a goal from O'Brien extended his side's advantage to seven points.

O'Brien won the ball, beat the defence and finished to the back of the net, in what was a fantastic goal.

Paddy Burke responded for the Saffrons, but two points before half-time, gave the Lake County a 2-12 to 0-10 lead at the interval.

Whatever the Antrim management team said to their players at the interval clearly worked wonders, as a rejuvenated outfit came out for the second half and absolutely blitzed Westmeath, with the Midlands side not knowing what had hit them.

Substitute Keelan Molloy found the net for the Saffrons in the 48th-minute, with a superb solo run and finish to the back of the net and the gap was down to a point, with all the momentum with the Ulster side.

Two scores In quick succession from Neil McManus gave his side a one point advantage, much to the delight of the sizeable Antrim contingent in Mullingar.

Westmeath responded courtesy of Allan Devine and it was anyone's game heading into the closing stages.

Westmeath were dealt a crucial blow, when corner back Brendan Doyle was dismissed in the 66th minute on a second yellow card and it looked to be the visitors day when Neil McManus pointed the resulting free.

Westmeath had other ideas though and late points from Liam Varley, Niall Mitchell and Allan Devine gave the Lake County a priceless victory.

Westmeath scorers: A Devine 0-7 (3f, 3 "65"), C Doyle and N O'Brien 1-2 each, N Mitchell 0-3, L Varley 0-2, A Clarke, P Greville and R Greville 0-1 each.

Antrim: N McManus 0-13 (7f), K Molloy 1-0, C McCann 0-2, C Johnston, J Dillon, P Burke, N Elliott and E Campbell 0-1 each,

Westmeath: P Carroll; S Power, T Doyle, B Doyle; L Varley, P Greville, D McNicholas; E Price, J Boyle; A Devine, A Clarke, N Mitchell; N O'Brien, C Doyle, R Greville.

Subs: J Gilligan for Boyle (55), D Clinton for C Doyle (60).

Antrim: R Elliott; A Graffin, J Dillon, C McKinley; S McCrory, P Burke, D Kearney; J McNaughton, E Campbell; C McCann, N McManus, N Elliott; E McCloskey, C Johnston, C Clarke.

Subs: R McCambridge for McCrory (blood, 30), S McCrory for McCambridge (33), K Molloy for McCloskey (h-t), D McKinley for McNaughton (45), D McCloskey for Elliott (70).

Referee: R McGann (Clare)

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