Bord na Mona Walsh Cup Group B: Westmeath 0-12 Antrim 1-18
ANTRIM got their year off to a winning start with a richly deserved nine-point win over Westmeath in their opening Walsh Cup match in difficult conditions at Kinnegad on Sunday.
While greater challenges will no doubt lie ahead throughout the coming year, this was a victory the management team of Terence McNaughton, Dominic McKinley, Gary O’Kane and Neal Peden will quietly enjoy. The Saffrons displayed commendable battling qualities in the opening half to turn a five-point deficit in to a one-point interval advantage, while in the second-half the Ulster side played some excellent hurling and outplayed their beleaguered opponents in all facets of the game.
“It was a good game out there today, a tight game played in difficult conditions,” said McNaughton.
“We’re happy with our work-rate but, at the end of the day, it’s January hurling and we won’t be getting too excited about it. We were trying out players and no doubt Westmeath were trying out players as well and both teams are just finding their feet at this moment in time.
“It’s a good result and I don’t really know when the last time we came down to Westmeath and won. It’s always good to come anywhere and get a result. This will be good for the players and it will do their confidence no harm at all. It’s nice to have made a winning start and I’d rather have won than to have lost out there today, let’s put it like that, but I won’t be jumping up and down with excitement about it just yet.
“This match will have no bearing whatsoever on what happens in our league match with Westmeath. I’d say Westmeath were nowhere near full strength out there today and neither were we. Training has been going well and the boys to their credit have worked ever so hard to date. That’s all we can ask of them to be fair. We have committed guys who want to hurl for Antrim and that’s good for us.”
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It was the Lake county who made the brighter start with a pointed free from the Allan Devine in the second minute. However, the industrious Niall McKenna soon equalised for the visitors before Westmeath midfielder Aonghus Clarke and Antrim attacker Conor Johnston, who finished with four points from play, swapped scores to draw the sides level once again.
Westmeath hit a purple patch around the midway point of the opening half and six quality efforts on target from Jack Galvin (0-2), Daragh Egerton and a trio of scores from the dangerous Devine gave the Midlanders a five-point lead. Sandwiched in between those efforts were two goal chances - one for either side - with first Joey Boyle in the 12th minute and then Ciaran Clarke two minutes later both thwarted by superb saves from the respective netminders.
Antrim soon got to grips with proceedings and fired over some impressive scores through Johnston (0-2), Daniel McKernan, McKenna and Neil McManus. In the last act of the first half accurate Ballycastle man Clarke gave the Saffrons the lead for the first time in the game with a tidy free from near the sideline. Antrim led 0-10 to 0-9 at the break.
The Saffrons were superb following the interval and played some fine hurling. Maol Connolly and Devine exchanged scores early on but from there on the visitors took control with scores from Eoghan Campbell (0-2), McKernan, Johnston and McManus giving them a five-point lead.
Clarke’s major in the 66th minute put the icing on the cake for the Saffrons and a late McKenna point ensured they ran out comfortable winners. Sarsfield’s man McKenna was understandably delighted with the win, as well as his own performance: “The game went well for us. Westmeath started well, but our fitness kicked in then. The training we have been doing really showed in the end,” he said.
“I am happy enough with my own performance, it’s the first time I’ve really hit the ball this year but to get three points is brilliant. “It’s always tough when we travel down to Westmeath. We very rarely get an easy game and it’s the first time since I’ve been on the squad that we’ve got a good win against them.”
Antrim’s victory took them to the top of Group Two alongside Kilkenny and they will face the Cats at Abbotstown next Sunday: “It will be very tough,” said McKenna.
“If we go out with the right attitude and display today’s tempo we’ll be happy. It’s always good to test yourself against the best and we’ll then have a better idea of where we’re at. Our workrate is improving all the time and that’s a good sign, I suppose. Training is good and the boys know what they’re at - they have us working hard and the fitness is there.
"They know what we need to work on.”
Westmeath: S McGovern; S Power, C Shaw, K Duncan; A Craig, L Varley, A McGrath; A Clarke (0-1), E Price; J Boyle, P Scally, E Corrigan; J Galvin (0-2), A Devine (0-7, 0-4 frees), D Egerton (0-1); Subs: N Mitchell for Scally (h-t), G Greville for Duncan (h-t), W Casserly for Corrigan (45), B Murtagh (0-1) for Boyle (57).
Antrim: C O’Connell; S Rooney, J Dillon, P Burke; S McCrory, N McAuley, C McKinley; E Campbell (0-3), D McKernan (0-2); N McManus (0-2), C McCann, M Connolly (0-1); C Clarke (1-3, 0-3 frees), N McKenna (0-3), C Johnston (0-4); Subs: K McKeague for Burke (14), P McGill for Connolly (44).
Referee: K Brady (Louth).