Limerick survive stern Westmeath test to make second round
Limerick boss TJ Ryan praises opponents after tough battle in Mullingar
David Breen of Limerick is challenged by Westmeath’s Alan McGrath during the All-Ireland hurling qualifier at Cusack Park in Mullingar. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Westmeath 1-12 Limerick 4-15
A wasteful Limerick side survived a genuine challenge from a very plucky Westmeath outfit in showery conditions in Mullingar on Sunday afternoon before advancing by a 12-point margin to the second round of qualifiers.
The Munster men seemed set to record their expected facile victory when they led by 2-2 to 0-2 after 13 minutes, the goals coming from Kevin Downes and Shane Dowling. For their part, Westmeath were struggling with some basic skills, marquee forward Derek McNicholas even failing to connect with routine placed balls in the slippery conditions.
However, urged on by the home fans in a crowd of 2,700, Westmeath scored 1-5 without reply between the 14th and 28th minutes. The goal was an outstanding effort from midfielder Cormac Boyle in the 18th minute, while their fifth point in the scoring spree came from McNicholas after a lengthy chat between the officials overruled the original wide call.
Remarkably, the massive underdogs now led by two points against a profligate Limerick side who had missed as many as four glorious goal chances. However, the visitors steadied the nerves of their large travelling support by rifling over four unanswered points before the break, the pick of them a wonderful effort from Seán Tobin in injury-time. At the break, Limerick led by 2-6 to 1-7.
With exactly a minute elapsed on the change of ends, Paul Browne found the net to put his side five points clear. Westmeath refused to buckle and two poor wides cost them the opportunity to reduce the margin to a goal. Defenders Shane Power, Tommy Doyle, Kieran Duncan and Aonghus Clarke were heroic, while veteran full forward Brendan Murtagh looked every inch a former Leinster player.
Westmeath were still in contention when trailing by 3-10 to 1-12 with 10 minutes remaining, but Limerick finished strongly as substitute Declan Hannon began to impose himself on proceedings. They added 1-5 in the closing stages, the goal a cheeky effort from another sub Adrian Breen in the 69th minute.
Victorious manager TJ Ryan was relieved to be in Monday morning’s draw for the second round and he was gracious in acknowledging the performance of arguably the country’s most improved side in 2015.
“The finishing scoreline doesn’t do justice to Westmeath on what was a tough day for hurling. They made life very difficult for us and this was always going to be a kind of a tricky enough assignment for us.
“We missed a few goal chances in the first half and there was a 13-minute period in that first half when we didn’t get any scores. But 4-15 is probably a good enough score in the finish.”
Despite the defeat, his opposite number Michael Ryan was understandably proud of his Westmeath side. However, he acknowledged that the step-up in class when facing Limerick showed him that “a lot of work needs to be done, and we need four or five extra players”.
WESTMEATH: S McGovern; S Power, T Doyle, K Duncan; A Craig, A Clarke, A McGrath; C Boyle (1-2), J Clarke; A Devine (0-1), D McNicholas (0-2), R Greville; N O’Brien, B Murtagh (0-6, two frees), L Varley.
Subs: D Clinton for O’Brien (46 mins), E Corrigan (0-1) for McNicholas (50 mins), K Murphy for Craig (59 mins), N Mitchell for Power (63 mins).
LIMERICK: N Quaid; T Condon, R McCarthy, S O’Brien; P O’Brien, G O’Mahony, W McNamara; J Ryan, P Browne (1-1); D Breen, S Tobin (0-3), S Dowling (1-3, one free); G Mulcahy (0-2), K Downes (1-2), C Lynch.
Subs: D Morrissey for Condon (27 mins), T O’Brien (0-1) for Lynch (44 mins), D Hannon (0-3, one free, one ’65’) for Tobin (52 mins), A Breen (1-0) for Dowling (57 mins), D O’Grady for D Breen (65 mins).
Referee: P O’Dwyer (Carlow).