Westmeath booked their place in the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup final with a hard-earned win against Antrim in ideal conditions for hurling at TEG Cusack Park.
There was very little between the teams in the early stages and they were on level terms at 0-3 each with eight minutes on the clock.
Neil McManus was causing the home defence a lot of headaches and Dominic McKinley’s charges led by 0-6 to 0-3 when Westmeath pounced for an opportunist goal. It was Ciaran Doyle who found the net in the 14th minute (after Ryan Elliott had saved Eoin Price’s initial effort) to level the tie.
Paul Greville was lording the exchanges at the heart of the home defence and his side led by four points (1-10 to 0-9) when Niall O’Brien scored a classy goal in the 33rdminute, after being teed up by the outstanding Liam Varley. Westmeath went on to lead by 2-12 to 0-10 at the break.
Antrim came right back into contention by scoring an unanswered 1-6 in the third quarter as Michael Ryan’s men struggled to regain any momentum.
The goal was scored with aplomb by sub Keelan Molloy in the 48th minute and, with McManus unerring from placed balls, Antrim seemed set for a vital win.
However, Westmeath regained their composure and Allan Devine (who scored all three ‘65’s awarded to his side over the course of the game) opened their second-half account in the 55th minute.
The Lake County men finished strongly and also rode their luck when the visitors had a ‘goal’ from Conor McCann disallowed in the 64th minute. Westmeath ended an enthralling contest with 14 men, Brendan Doyle picking up a second yellow card in the 66th minute.
Antrim’s slim hopes of meeting Westmeath again in the tier two final in Croke Park now hinge on the midlanders doing them a favour this day week by defeating Carlow away, assuming the Ulster side defeat Kerry in Cushendall at the same time.
Scorers - Westmeath: Aonghus Clarke (0-1), Robbie Greville (0-1), Niall O’Brien (1-2), Liam Varley (0-2), Paul Greville (0-1), Allan Devine (0-7, 3fs, 3 ‘65’s), Niall Mitchell (0-3), Ciaran Doyle (1-2)
Antrim: Neil McManus (0-13, 7fs), John Dillon (0-1), Paddy Burke (0-1), Eoghan Campbell (0-1); Conor McCann (0-2), Nigel Elliott (0-1), Conor Johnston (0-1), Keelan Molloy (1-0)
Westmeath: Paddy Carroll; Shane Power, Tommy Doyle, Brendan Doyle; Liam Varley, Paul Greville, Derek McNicholas; Eoin Price, Joey Boyle; Aonghus Clarke, Robbie Greville, Niall O’Brien; Allan Devine, Niall Mitchell, Ciaran Doyle.
Subs: John Gilligan for Boyle (56), Darragh Clinton for C Doyle (60).
Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Aaron Graffin, John Dillon, Conor McKinley; Simon McCrory, Paddy Burke, David Kearney; James McNaughton, Eoghan Campbell; Conor McCann, Neil McManus, Nigel Elliott; Eddie McCloskey, Conor Johnston, Ciaran Clarke.
Subs: Keelan Molloy for McCloskey (h-t), Donal McKinley for McNaughton (45), Daniel McCloskey for Elliott (69).
Referee: Rory McGann (Clare).