Westmeath exited the 2012 Leinster minor hurling championship in very disappointing fashion in Cusack Park on Saturday afternoon last, a hungry Carlow side emerging as narrow but deserving winners after a closely-fought, but often scrappy, encounter.
A small crowd turned up on a pleasant afternoon, with the visitors' followers very vocal in support of their charges. The fare on offer was generally sub-standard, but the closeness of the scoring made for an interesting contest.
Apart from the game's opening score from their most consistent player, Niall O'Brien (a Moate Community School student) in the third minute, Westmeath never led at any other point in the game.
The winners had reliable freetaker, Marty Kavanagh and opportunist corner-forward, Pete Shaw, to thank for 13 of their points, albeit the former can consider himself lucky to have avoided being sent for the dreaded early shower in the 35th minute by match referee, Eadhmon Mac Suibhne, who has had better days in charge of the whistle.
Overall, there was an element of lethargy in the losers' all-round play for which they paid a heavy price with a May 5th exit from meaningful action a big setback to all concerned.
Niall O'Brien's opportunist point opened the scoring but Carlow were three points to the good (0-4 to 0-1) by the ninth minute, courtesy of three converted frees from Marty Kavanagh and the first of five well-taken scores from play by Pete Shaw. O'Brien and Kavanagh then traded points from frees but it was clear that the Barrowsiders were fired up for the assignment and their hunger paid further dividends on the scoreboard with another Marty Kavanagh free and a well-worked score by Michael Walsh putting them 0-7 to 0-2 in front by the 18th minute. A great point from defender Liam Varley briefly lifted the home supporters, with Niall O'Brien following up with the Lake County's fourth point in the 24th minute. Scrappy play from both sets of players ensued but Pete Shaw soon steadied the winners with a tidy point.
O'Brien and Kavanagh exchanged points from placed balls in the closing minutes of normal time in the first moiety, before Pete Shaw pounced for his third point from open play in added-time, to leave the scoreboard at the break reading: Carlow 0-10 Westmeath 0-5. Ray Gavin's half-time team talk seemed to have the desired effect with his charges rattling over four unanswered points between the 32nd and 38th minutes, via Niall O'Brien (a wonderful free from near the stand sideline), substitute Darragh Clinton (a lovely finish, Luke Loughlin (a great score) and Ciaran Doyle (after fine play by Liam Varley).
Westmeath were now just a point in arrears (0-10 to 0-9) but indecisive defending allowed Dion Wall in for a soft goal for Carlow in the 39th minute. However, Ciaran Doyle soon cancelled this out at the other end with a great finish after being well set up by Niall O'Brien, who proceeded to level the contest from a free. However, a brace of points apiece from Marty Kavanagh (two frees) and Pete Shaw put the visitors four points to the good with ten minutes remaining. Killian Doyle chipped in with his only point with eight minutes remaining before a shot from Darragh Clinton came close to crossing the goal-line in the 55th minute after fine approach work by Niall O'Brien.
A scramble ensued and the referee consulted his umpires, but a '65' was the outcome which O'Brien slotted over with aplomb. The latter player was then narrowly wide from a lineball and was later blocked close to goal as the maroon and whites went all out in attack.
Just one minute of added-time was played and when the final whistle sounded a very disappointing provincial campaign had come to a shuddering end for Westmeath.
Scorers - Carlow: M Kavanagh 0-8 (8f), P Shaw 0-5, D Wall 1-0, M Walsh 0-1. Westmeath: N O'Brien 0-7 (4f, 1 '65'), C Doyle 1-1, L Varley, L Loughlin, D Clinton and K Doyle 0-1 each.
Carlow: Jack Barron; Paddy Doran, James Cox, Michael Malone; Barry Nolan, Diarmuid Byrne, Michael O'Grady; Conor Fenlon, Dion Wall; James Doyle, Jack Kavanagh, Marty Kavanagh; Michael Walsh, Ayrton Gleeson, Pete Shaw. Subs: Jack Murphy for J. Kavanagh (38), Jason Shinnors for Walsh (58).
Westmeath: Leonard Gavin; Paddy Reilly, Liam Varley, Thomas Egan; Eoin Quinn, Tommy Gallagher, Jack McGrath; Robbie Greville, Shane Farrelly; Luke Loughlin, Shane Clavin, Luke McGrath; Killian Doyle, Niall O'Brien, Ciaran Doyle. Subs: Kieran Glennon for L. McGrath (19), Darragh Clinton for Quinn (h/t), Daniel Sheridan for Farrelly (37), John Egan for Clavin (50).
Referee: Eadhmon Mac Suibhne (Dublin).