By Kieran Murphy
A snap-shot just inside the Carlow 65m mark from substitute Evan Scally stole victory for the visitors in this minor hurling championship knock-out game in Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday. It looked as if the sides were going to finish level after Conor Kehoe’s sweet strike from a 65 only seconds early flew over the black spot but Westmeath battled hard to win the puck-out and were duly rewarded.
After taking an early lead with points from Kehoe and Tadgh Doran it looked as if the home side had settled best. Even though Shane Williams and Matthew Glynn replied for Westmeath, Carlow seemed to hold the upper hand and on 21 minutes led 0-9 to 0-5.
Possibly a brilliant Aaron Hill point was the catalyst for Westmeath’s strong first-half finish when Brian Farrell raided down the right-hand side at the scoreboard end of the ground. His hopeful cross towards the far post was batted home by Pearse Weir-Norris and a minute later Shane Williams nudged the visitors in front with a free.
Conor Kehoe replied in kind but Williams had the final say of the half with another successfully converted free to put his side 1-8 to 0-10 in front at the interval.
Carlow were sluggish in the first half and they came strongly out of the blocks for the second period with Doran and Kehoe pointing. Williams then caught a high ball near to goal and turning quickly he levelled the game once more.
Carlow had a great chance to seize the initiative when they were awarded a 37th-minute penalty. Kehoe tried to pick his spot in the left-hand corner but Jamie Mukerrin in the Westmeath goal read his intention and got over quickly to make the save and clear the danger. The sides were level once more when Scott Treacy and Conor Murphy exchanged scores. Carlow had goal chances but couldn’t take them against a Westmeath defence who rode their luck a little but also put in the hard blocks and laid their bodies on the line.
The key moment arrived on 45 minutes when Dean Slye in the Carlow goal did well to bat out a high ball with defenders and forwards coming in on top of him.
Aaron Hill picked up the rebound. In most cases a player in the same position as him would have settled for a point. Instead he drilled his shot low and hard into the bottom right-hand corner for what was the decisive goal. It was tight to the end. Points for Carlow from Mark Sherratt and three from Kehoe with Williams replying for the visitors looked set to bring the game into extra-time. Then came Scally’s intervention to break Carlow hearts and give Westmeath an unlikely victory.
Westmeath: Jamie Mukerrin; Eoin Murray, Zach Ahearne, Eoin Rhattigan; Cian Gavigan, Ciaran Cleere, Colm Murray; Ciarán Daly, Matthew Glynn (0-1); Aaron Hill (1-1), Shane Williams (0-8, 0-5 frees), Andrew Shaw; Conor Murray (0-2), Brian Farrell, Pearse Weir-Norris (1-0). Sub: Evan Scally (0-1) for Gavigan (50 mins).
Carlow: Dean Slye; Eric English, Michael Joyce, Lorcan Doyle; Diarmuid Deacon, Ger Kavanagh, Niall Bolger; Fiachra Fitzpatrick, Jason Wall (0-1); Tadgh Doran (0-3), Conor Kehoe (0-9, 0-6 frees, 65), Louis Brennan (0-1); Jack McCullough (0-1), Scott Treacy (0-1), Fiach O’Toole (0-1). Subs: Patrick Kavanagh for Wall (34 mins), Mark Sherratt (0-1) for Brennan (40 mins), Jake Doyle for Bolger (50 mins).
Referee: Chris Mooney (Dublin)