A week after their sensational win in Wexford, Westmeath were relegated to the Joe McDonagh Cup for 2024 when they were decisively beaten by Antrim in front of a big crowd in glorious weather conditions in Mullingar.
Conal Cunning and Ciaran Doyle traded early points from placed balls, but Antrim looked the better and more economical side overall in the opening quarter.
Goals in the eighth minute by Cunning, just after he had been booked, and Conor Johnston (availing of a rare error by Tommy Doyle in the 13th minute) helped them to a deserved 2-06 to 0-05 lead by the 21st minute.
The Glensmen could easily have found the net for the third time in the 28th minute, but Neil McManus was superbly denied by Noel Conaty. Doyle’s second successful ‘65’, awarded after the umpire had initially signalled the ball wide, left the home team trailing by 2-06 to 0-08 approaching the half-hour mark.
Owen McCabe then availed of slack Antrim defending to find the net, the referee allowing an advantage after a foul by goalkeeper Ryan Elliott who was black-carded and replaced between the sticks by wing back Gerard Walsh.
Joe Fortune’s men added four unanswered points before the break, the best of them from Niall O’Brien, and they led by 1-12 to 2-07 at the interval.
The two-point deficit was wiped out within a minute of the restart with Keelan Molloy (after nine seconds) and McManus on target.
The sides were still on level terms (2-11 to 1-14) after 41 minutes, but a fired-up Antrim took over from then onwards with manager Darren Gleeson picking up a yellow card.
Firing over some great points from a variety of angles, they outscored the home team by ten points to three by the 65th minute.
Last week’s hero for the midlanders, Niall Mitchell, was unable to exert any influence when introduced, while veteran Derek McNicholas was also anonymous as he brought an end to a 19-year senior championship career.
Substitute Eoin O’Neill rifled in a great goal some two minutes later, to more or less copper-fasten their place in next year’s Leinster championship.
Midfielder James McNaughton scored a fourth goal in the 68th minute to seal a fully deserved win and condemn Westmeath to the drop.
Antrim: R Elliott; P Burke, R McGarry, N O'Connor (0-02); G Walsh, E Campbell, C Bohill; J McNaughton (1-03), M Bradley; K Molloy (0-01), C Johnston (1-01), N McManus (0-02); C Cunning (1-09, 0-07 frees), N McKenna (0-03), S Elliott (0-02). Subs: D McKernan for Bohill (inj., 11), E O’Neill (1-01) for Johnston (61), R McMullan for McManus (70), D Nugent for Cunning (70+3).
Westmeath: N Conaty; D Egerton, C Shaw, J Bermingham (0-01); T Doyle, A Craig, R Greville; J Galvin (0-02, 0-01 lineball), C McCormack; D Glennon (0-04), E Keyes, N O’Brien (0-03, 0-01 free); O McCabe (1-00), J Boyle (0-02), C Doyle (0-07, 0-04 frees, 0-02 '65’s). Subs: N Mitchell for McCormack (41), P Clarke for Craig (49), D McNicholas for C Doyle (59), C Boyle for Shaw (69), K Regan for McCabe (70+1).
Referee: K Jordan (Tipperary).