Westmeath are on the cusp of a place in the Joe McDonagh Cup final after a hard-fought victory against Carlow at Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday.
Both teams failed to gain a considerable lead early on in what was a tight and cagey first half, largely due to the magnitude of the occasion. Niall Mitchell and Teddy Joyce got their sides opening scores of the game before a free from his own half-back line saw Castletown Geoghan man Niall O’Brien move Westmeath 0-01 – 0-02 ahead.
Joey Boyle moved Westmeath further ahead before Carlow talisman Chris Nolan opened his account with his first free of the day. John Michael Nolan levelled for the home side and two frees, one for each team, levelled the game at 0-04 – 0-04. Raharney clubmates Joey Boyle and Killian Doyle pointed ten minutes into a tense encounter. Carlow levelled again with two great scores from right wing-back David English and Mount Leinster Rangers corner forward Chris Nolan. Joey Boyle got the final score before the first half water break with the scoreboard reading Carlow 0-06 – 0-07 Westmeath.
Unfortunately, a nervy game didn’t open up in the second quarter. Niall O’Brien split the posts from a free right of the Carlow ’65. Joe McDonagh team of the year forward Chris Nolan replied with his fourth point of the day and his first from play as he took advantage of a loose ball from a Brian Tracey puckout. Joey Boyle continued to apply pressure on the Carlow back line with another score from play as Westmeath went into a 0-07 – 0-09 lead.
With their season on the line, Westmeath upped their standards from a disappointing league campaign with Aonghus Clarke getting his opening point of the game to move the visitors into the biggest lead of the game, 0-07 – 0-10. Again, they failed to push on and two points from play from Teddy Joyce and Jon Nolan reduced the deficit to a single point with ten minutes remaining in the first half. Full forward Nolan equalised after some good link up play with his namesake John Michael Nolan as Carlow matched the high intensity of their opponents.
Niall O’Brien dispatched of his third free in the opening period and the Westmeath forward line all got on the scoresheet at the end of a close first half when Ciarán Doyle pointed from within the Carlow ’45 to move Westmeath two points ahead. However, there was enough time for Nolan to get his fifth point for Carlow with a free from close to the sideline and Jon Nolan got his third of the afternoon with one of the scores of the game to level the game at half time, 0-12 – 0-12.
Westmeath corner forward Niall O’Brien continued from where he left off in the first half with an early score from play after the interval. Centre forward Killian Doyle added to his tally with the first free of the second half to move the Lake County two points ahead, 0-12 – 0-14. Chris Nolan got his maiden point of the first half with a free from dead straight in front of the posts. Cillian Doyle immediately cancelled out Nolan’s effort with a free of his own to keep Westmeath two ahead after 45 minutes.
Nolan drew Tom Mullally’s side level with two fantastic scores from play, 0-15- 0-15. A Nolan free briefly pushed Carlow ahead but two Niall O’Brien strikes gave Westmeath a one-point lead. Nolan continued to lead the Carlow charge and two consecutive points gave the Barrowsider’s a 0-18 – 0-17 lead with less than ten minutes left on the clock. Centre forward Killian Doyle got his third and fourth free of the second half as the pendulum swung again between two evenly matched sides.
Clonkill full forward Niall Mitchell added another for Shane O’Brien’s men to give them a two-point lead as the game entered its closing stages. Substitute and Galway native David Glennon, along with two Killian Doyle points saw Westmeath claim a deserved victory.
If Westmeath avoid defeat at home to Kildare next weekend, they will advance to the final of the Joe McDonagh Cup. Carlow must wait to see if David Herity’s side can do them a favour in Mullingar next Saturday.