London will play Christy Ring Cup hurling in 2015 after they fell to a 2-12 to 1-12 defeat to Westmeath this afternoon at Cusack Park in Mullingar.
The Exiles played their best hurling in the first half and led by 0-07 to 0-04 at the break but the sending off of Darren Moore in injury time – one of four dismissals by referee Eamon Hassan – gave Westmeath a numerical edge.
The home side upped the tempo after the interval and two Alan Devine goals appeared to secure the victory, before Eoin Kelly blasted a 20metre free to the net to set up a tense final few minutes.
With the threat of relegation hanging over both teams, it was always likely that this afternoon’s battle would be a nervous encounter and both sides showed plenty of apprehension in the early stages, spurning a string of chances.
London built up a half a dozen wides in the first quarter while Westmeath could have been out of sight had they converted their four goal opportunities.
James Barrett did wonderfully well to deny Niall O’Brien but inaccuracy was the issue in the other instances as O’Brien, Alan Devine and Derek McNicholas all flashed close range shots wide of the target.
London led by the odd score in seven by the half hour mark before the game finally began to show signs of life, kickstarted by some excellent long range frees by Eoin Kelly and an elegant point on the turn by Martin Duggan.
London knew that a win would have secured their McCarthy Cup entry for 2015 and they looked good at 0-07 to 0-03 up going into injury time, but a fine Philip Gilsenan score reduced the deficit and then they were further hurt by Moore’s sending off.
Derry referee Eamon Hassan showed four red cards and 11 yellows over the course of this game, despite the absence of any real malice at any stage, and Moore certainly could feel hard done by as he appeared to impeded when Hassan whistled him for overcarrying.
His remonstrations led to the Derry official showing a second yellow to the midfielder, leaving London short-handed after the break.
Four points were shared immediately after half-time before Westmeath drew level thanks to three points in succession, the pick of which was an inspirational score from Alan Devine, set up by a wonderful catch and clearance by full back Tommy Doyle.
The tide appeared to turn yet again in the 48th minute when Westmeath’s Ciarán Curley was the next to be sent off for what Eamon Hassan interpreted as a strike across the head of a London player, though Curley seemed to disagree with this view.
Eoin Kelly pointed the subsequent free from 80-yards out to give London a two-point lead but they failed to build on this and didn’t score for another 18 minutes.
Westmeath drew level and finally took the lead through Niall O’Brien before a five minute sequence of play appeared to give them plenty of breathing room.
Conor Hickey was sent off for London for jamming his hurl into O’Brien’s midriff, then Alan Devine hit the back of the net from close range after Eoin Price’s initial attempt was parried by James Barrett. London argued that Devine was in the small square when the shot was taken but their complaints were waved away.
Westmeath led by four at this point but three wides on the spin kept London in touch and Eoin Kelly’s eighth point of the afternoon reduced the gap to a single score with five minutes to play, 1-12 to 0-12.
Alan Devine came up trumps yet again with a second goal, deftly tapping the ball over Barrett’s head after catching a long delivery in behind Rory Foy, but there was still time for Eoin Kelly to deliver a thunderbolt of a free to the Westmeath net from 20 metres out and for Niall O’Brien to become the fourth man to see red in injury time.
The Westmeath corner forward was however shown a second yellow for dissent so he will be available for the Lake County’s crucial relegation play-off against the Christy Ring cup winners on 14 June.
Westmeath: P Collins; K Duncan, T Doyle, L Varley (0-01); P Reilly, A Craig, G Greville; P Gilsenan (0-01), C Curley; R Greville, E Price, A Clarke (0-03); A Devine (2-03), D McNicholas, N O’Brien (0-04, 0-03 frees).
Sub: T Gallagher for McNicholas (53).
London: J Barrett; C Hickey, R Foy, C McAlinden; E Cooney, PJ Rowe, S Frawley; D Egan (0-01), D Moore; M Lynch, E Kelly (1-08, 1-07 frees), K Killilea; H Vaughan (0-02), M Duggan (0-01), P Cocoman.
Subs: L Hands for Cocoman (47), B Regan for Lynch (49), Barry for Vaughan (67), M Holohan for Killilea (69).
Referee: Eamon Hassan (Derry)