Carlow 2-26 Westmeath 1-24
Carlow sealed promotion to next season’s Leinster SHC with a five-point McDonagh Cup final victory over Westmeath at Croke Park.
While both sides will advance to the All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final stage next weekend – Carlow will play Limerick, while Westmeath meet Wexford – the victors here claimed an additional prize as they will replace relegated Offaly in Leinster next season.
Denis Murphy top-scored for the Barrowsiders, hitting 10 points, all from dead balls, while goals either side of half-time from James Doyle and Chris Nolan set Carlow on their way.
In the sides’ fourth clash this season, Carlow led by two points at the break, 1-12 to 0-13, with wayward Westmeath clocking up 10 wides by the 25th minute.
Doyle found the net on the stroke of half-time, just moments after Westmeath's Aonghus Clarke had blasted a good goal chance over the Carlow bar after being put through by Ciarán Doyle.
Enjoying a two-point lead at the break when they could have easily been three behind, Carlow raised a second green flag one minute into the second half as Nolan – impressive throughout – scored from a Doyle lay-off.
A quickfire point from wing-back Kevin McDonald then put Carlow six points up, 2-13 to 0-13.
Both sides spurned further goal chances in the third quarter and while Allan Devine's accurate free-taking and the trojan effort of midfielder Eoin Price kept Westmeath in touch, their comeback hopes were further hit with four minutes left in normal time when Derek McNicholas was sent off on a second booking, while a late goal from Niall O'Brien was purely a consolation score.
Jubilant Carlow manager Colm Bonnar said: "I don't think many people would've expected Carlow to top the group and be the first Joe McDonagh champions, but we've shown out there that these lads can hurl and they have huge passion for the county."
CARLOW: B Tracey; A Corcoran, P Doyle, M Doyle; K McDonald (0-1), R Coady, D English; J Kavanagh, D Byrne (0-1); JM Nolan (0-3), P Coady (0-4), E Byrne (0-2); J Doyle (1-1), D Murphy (0-10 0-9 frees, 1 '65), C Nolan (1-4). Subs: R Smithers for D Byrne (66 mins), S Murphy for E Byrne (67), R Kelly for J Kavanagh (69), J Murphy for P Coady (71), T Joyce for C Nolan (72).
WESTMEATH: P Carroll; S Power, T Doyle, L Varley; A Clarke (0-3), P Greville, D McNicholas (0-2 one free); E Price (0-6), J Gilligan; J Boyle, R Greville (0-2), A Devine (0-8, 0-8 frees); N O'Brien (1-1), N Mitchell (0-1), C Doyle. Subs: D Clinton for C Doyle (40 mins), S Clavin for L Varley (41), C Boyle for J Boyle (46), B Doyle for S Power (63), C Shaw for N Mitchell (67).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork)