Christy Ring Cup 2nd Round: Kerry 3-14, Westmeath 2-11 -- If Westmeath senior hurlers are to win their third Christy Ring Cup in 2010 they must do so by the circuitous route, after losing to a better-balanced Kerry side in their second outing of the campaign in Tralee last Saturday afternoon, a late two-goal salvo from substitute Dan Carty failing to stop the Kingdom side.
It was a very pleasant afternoon in the town famous for its August international festival but, despite the very strong Westmeath connections of last year's Rose of Tralee winner, it was the home side who were crowned as deserving victors last weekend, guaranteeing them a place in the penultimate round. A good-sized local crowd turned up to support their small-ball heroes in the football-mad county, while the visitors had virtually no vocal backing other than Westmeath Hurling Board officials.
Westmeath's topsy-turvy year to date has been blighted by injuries, suspensions and player withdrawals. Therefore, the sight of team captain Andrew Mitchell clutching his hand in some distress after receiving a knock, a mere five seconds after the throw-in, was exactly what the doctor didn't order, the Clonkill man eventually forced to retire a quarter-of-an-hour later.
Despite being wind-assisted, Brendan Murtagh failed to convert the ensuing 70-metre free, but the same player found the target shortly afterwards from a placed ball much nearer the Kerry posts. The winners' very impressive young forward, Darragh O'Connell then put his side ahead with a brace of quickfire points, a converted '65' followed by a neat point from play from around 40 metres. A well-worked Westmeath move resulted in an equaliser from Eoin Price, but the Darragh O'Connell show resumed when he collected James Godley's pass and buried the sliotar past returning Westmeath goalkeeper Pat Burke in the tenth minute, and followed up with a successful free from 50 metres. At exactly the midpoint of the half, Brendan Murtagh slotted over a routine free, before John Griffin became the second player in green and gold to make the scoresheet with a fine point from 50 metres.
Philip Gilsenan opened his account with a point directly from the puck-out but Darragh O'Connell responded with two more successful placed balls, a second '65' of the afternoon and a free from a similar range, sandwiched between which Westmeath shot a couple of disappointing wides. Brendan Murtagh was then gifted a point for the losers. After producing a fine catch, Kevin Brazil was hooked as he tried to get a shot on goal but his fellow-Castlepollard man, Andrew Dermody soon made amends with a lovely point from a tight angle.
Further Westmeath points followed from Joe Clarke (a great score under pressure) and Brendan Murtagh (a tricky free), leaving Westmeath trailing by just a point. However, in the second minute of injury-time, Kerry scored a terrific goal, Darragh O'Connell and John Egan combining to set up Shane Nolan who buried the ball in the Westmeath net from 15 metres. This left the scoreboard at half-time reading, Kerry 2-6 Westmeath 0-8, the home side (who had shot three wides compared with Westmeath's eight) leaving the pitch to sustained applause from their loyal fans.
Kerry goalkeeper Bernard Rochford just about held the ball from a long-range strike from Westmeath sub Ronan Whelan in the opening half-minute of the second moiety, but Brendan Murtagh soon reduced the deficit from a free. Westmeath already looked more spirited than in the opening half but the all-round standard of hurling was offer was often quite poor. A well-taken point from Gary O'Brien and another Darragh O'Connell free put John Meyler's troops five points to the good by the ninth minute. Brendan Murtagh replied with a point from a 35-metre free before the winners struck for their third goal, John Mike Dooley sending an unstoppable shot past Pat Burke, after Gary O'Brien had knocked down Mike Conway's through ball. John Egan scored his side's ninth point on the quarter-hour mark. The losers were soon given a free out when it appeared to all bar the referee that the award should have been the other way. Bernard Rochford did very well to retain possession near his goalline under intense pressure. A great run from substitute James Flaherty within seconds of his introduction teed up John Griffin for a point.
A foul in the large parallelogram on Philip Gilsenan, moments before he was replaced, gave Brendan Murtagh a chance from the penalty spot, but his well-struck shot was saved by Colin Harris at the expense of a '65' (the umpire initially astounding all and sundry by waving a wide). Ronan Whelan took the '65' and John Shaw (now operating in attack) doubled on the ball in midair for a classy point. Westmeath sub Dan Carty soon took centre stage with a fine brace of opportunist goals in the 26th and 28th minutes and, all of a sudden, the visitors were only two points in arrears. However, it proved to be a false dawn, with Kerry wrapping up a fully-merited win with an unanswered four points in the closing minutes, a neat point from play by John Egan in addition to three more placed balls from Darragh O'Connell (the first two from 50 metres and the halfway line respectively, with the man of the match having the luxury of deliberately tapping the ball over the crossbar from a penalty in the last action of the contest).
Westmeath now face Down next Saturday in a quarter-final tie. After just scraping past the Mournemen in a similar a 'win-or-bust' National League tie a few short weeks ago, Kevin Martin will be all-too-aware that his charges will need to produce a totally committed and focused performance if they are to retain an interest in this year's second tier senior hurling championship.
Westmeath: Pat Burke; Adam Price, Paul Greville, John Shaw (0-1); Blaine Lahart, Andrew Mitchell, Darren McCormack; Stephen Bardon, Enda Loughlin; Joe Clarke (0-1), Brendan Murtagh (0-6, 0-5 from frees), Eoin Price (0-1); Kevin Brazil, Philip Gilsenan (0-1), Andrew Dermody (0-1). Subs: Ronan Whelan (for Mitchell, inj, 17 mins), Dan Carty (2-0) (for Brazil, 42 mins), Damien Golden (for Gilsenan, 59 mins), Aaron Farrell (for Dermody, 59 mins).
Kerry: Bernard Rochford; Colin Harris, Tom Murnane, John Fitzgerald; James Godley, Liam Boyle, Andrew Keane; Mike Conway, John Griffin (0-2); John Egan (0-2), Michael Boyle, Darragh O'Connell (1-9, 0-2 from '65's, 0-1 from a pen, 0-5 from frees); John Mike Dooley (1-0), Gary O'Brien (0-1), Shane Nolan (1-0). Sub: James Flaherty (for Nolan, 56 mins).
Referee: Jason O'Mahony (Limerick).
by Gerry Buckley