Tommy Doyle of Westmeath attenps to kep tabs on Aaron Gillane of Limerick, in last Sunday’s NHL Division 1A game at TEG Cusack Park.

Kiely praises Westmeath’s fine second half display

Westmeath senior hurlers produced a gutsy second half display against All-Ireland champions Limerick, at TEG Cusack Park last Sunday and while they ultimately lost by 12 points, they can take great satisfaction from a much-improved effort.

Limerick led by 1-14 to 0-5 at half-time, but Westmeath scored a very respectable 1-10 in the second half, including a penalty goal from Niall O’Brien. It gave manager Joe Fortune something positive to ponder ahead of the final round against Galway and, more crucially, the relegation play-off against Laois.

“We spoke at half-time, similar to Pairc Uí Chaoimh, about how it was important that we didn’t let the Westmeath people down; our families down; our clubs down. I felt we were just not ourselves in the first half, we were just in admiration of what Limerick were trying to do,” he remarked.

Fortune called on his players for a renewed effort at the break and they duly responded. Perhaps inferiority complex played a part in the opening half, but for whatever reason, Westmeath really struggled to find their best form.

“I just asked them at half-time to give the Westmeath people something to shout about because we have a massive game here in two weeks time (against Laois). I thought our distribution was better (in the second half). There was something in the first half where we were just stand-offish but we are missing a number of players.”

Westmeath are down some key players and that was a factor also.

“We have a number of injuries: we are missing five players who would have started every game for me last year,” noted Fortune, who was full of admiration for the All-Ireland champions.

“Cork put out a weakened team against us, but we were without four or five of our main players also. We were missing Killian Doyle today. It’s a hard place to go when you are competing against Limerick, but we really admire what they have done as a county.

“From 36 minutes up to 70, we started to show what Westmeath is about. But we know what’s coming now: a big, massive game against Galway next week and then the nuggets one of all, to see if we can become the first Westmeath team to maintain Division 1 status.”

Fortune felt Limerick were formidable opponents on the day. “Their athleticism, their strength, their movement: they’re creating pockets of space all the time,” he observed.

Fortune said maintaining Division 1 status is a massive target for his side.

“It has to be. We knew from the start of the year that we could, possibly, turn a big team over, if we got everything going our way; but we always knew the reality, that it was going to be ourselves, Antrim, Laois, possibly, who would be in (contention for) the play-off.

“Both Antrim and Laois have improved massively on last year, but the truth is, while I was disappointed after the Clare game in Ennis, every day since we have tried to add as much as we can. You’re playing the All-Ireland champions in Cusack Park and I just asked them not to lie down in the second half.

“I thought young (Eoin) Keyes at the end was unlucky not to get a goal. The number of players we are missing is huge and I hope that’s recognised in the media. They will look at Limerick using players, but our captain from the Joe McDonagh winning side was absent, as well as Derek (McNicholas), Aonghus (Clarke), Niall Mitchell … it’s huge. We lost Owen McCabe after 10 minutes. Injuries are mounting.”

The good news is that Killian Doyle is set to return for the play-off game and he will be a massive addition to the Westmeath side. Derek McNichoals and Niall Mitchell are also likely to return. And the performance of Niall O’Brien (1-6) last Sunday will also give the Lake County added reason to feel positive about what lies ahead.

“He has been showing well at training and he’s in great shape. He was exemplary with his frees. And I thought young Jack (Gillen) tried hard. It’s not easy: Limerick are some machine,” he added.

Praise for Westmeath

Limerick manager John Kiely gave great credit to Westmeath for a fine second half performance.

“We started the second half pretty well, but great credit has to go to Westmeath for their second half performance. They worked very, very hard and in numbers; their physicality (was good); their tackling was through the roof. They made it difficult for our lads.

“We still created a number of scoring chances, but not as many as we would have liked.”

On the second half penalty awarded to Westmeath that led to a black card for , Kiely felt the referee’s judgement needs to be respected.

“The rule is there. It’s a tough one to implement, but it’s there for a reason to prevent cynical defending. It’s not being pulled too often, so when it is we have to take the referee’s word for it that it was a real goal-scoring opportunity in which the player was taken out. We will have a look back at it,” he added.