"Is féidir Lyng" could easily have been the mantra of the local followers leaving a very damp, dreary and dark Wexford Park last Saturday night after Diarmuid Lyng notched 15 points to help the Slaneysiders overpower a disappointing Westmeath side by an unflattering 16-point margin in the first round of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship qualifiers.
While an away championship win against one of the game's traditional powers was surely expecting too much of this largely inexperienced Westmeath side, most fans who made the long journey in miserable weather were expecting a closer game. However, Liam Dunne's men led from start to finish and a soft goal seconds before the half-time whistle, followed by an unanswered 2-1 within three minutes of the restart, were firm indicators of the gulf in class between the sides.
To their credit, the visitors battled away but goals from Brendan Murtagh (a trademark free from the otherwise ineffective Clonkill maestro) and substitute Cormac Boyle merely took the dirty look off the scoreline.
Overall, Westmeath paid dearly for a range of unforced errors, even when well in contention in the opening quarter and, as happened in 2011, a significant win followed by a very encouraging display against Galway - both in the Leinster championship - preceded a limp exit through the 'back door'.
While a number of young players, including a brace of outstanding 17-year-olds, have gained invaluable championship experience, it was strange to see three of them replaced last Saturday when a few older players were clearly struggling. Indeed, an All-Ireland title at U21 'B' level is now surely almost a necessity to round off 2012 on a positive note for the talented crop of young players who will shape the future of the small ball game in the Lake County.
Westmeath would have been relatively pleased with the opening quarter display from the men in maroon and white, at the end of which the 'Yellow Bellies' led by the narrowest possible margin (0-5 to 0-4). P.J. Nolan opened the scoring after 35 seconds with Niall O'Brien responding within two minutes. Diarmuid Lyng quickly added three points (two from play), while David Redmond also made the scoresheet. Westmeath kept in touch courtesy of a Niall O'Brien free, a fine score under pressure from John Shaw and a well-worked score from Frank Boyle.
However, Wexford tacked on six unanswered points between the 18th and 29th minutes, courtesy of David Redmond and Harry Kehoe from open play, together with four Diarmuid Lyng frees from a range of distances.
Robbie Greville, who was regularly catching the eye, popped over a great point from 60 metres on the half-hour mark. Diarmuid Lyng's improvised effort soon flew over the Westmeath crossbar, rather under it as intended, and Diarmuid O'Keeffe added another point in the second last minute of normal time in the first moiety. Niall O'Brien converted a 60-metre free, but disaster befell the visitors with seconds left in added-time when Shane McGovern could only bat down P.J. Nolan's long-range shot and an alert Rory Jacob scooped the ball to the net. This left the scoreboard at the break reading: Wexford 1-13 Westmeath 0-6.
Brian Hanley's men needed a great start to the second half, but it was Wexford who got exactly that. Diarmuid O'Keeffe found the net in style within a minute of the throw-in. Garrett Sinnott added a point before Rory Jacob set up Sinnott for a goal to open up an unassailable 17-point gap.
It was damage limitation for Westmeath at this juncture and, in fairness, they 'won' the remaining 33 minutes by a point, albeit there was a suspicion that the home side eased off somewhat. Niall O'Brien, who was well marshalled after his headline-making exploits in the Leinster championship, slotted over a 35-metre free. At the other end, Diarmuid Lyng converted two more frees, sandwiched between which Diarmuid O'Keeffe brought his total to 1-2.
Brendan Murtagh blasted home a 30-metre free for the losers in the 52nd minute, but that man Lyng pointed directly from the puck-out.
Substitute Cormac Boyle's innocuous drive from 50 metres soon nestled in the net before Lyng reached a dozen points with a delightful strike from 55 metres. In the closing stages, Niall O'Brien and Brendan Murtagh both pointed frees for the men in maroon and white, but Diarmuid Lyng reached a remarkable 15-point haul with successful three placed balls of his own as the light began to fade and Westmeath fans prepared for the long journey home, undoubtedly in downcast mood.
Wexford: D Lyng 0-15 (10f), D O'Keeffe 1-2, G Sinnott 1-1, R Jacob 1-0, D Redmond 0-2, H Kehoe and P.J Nolan 0-1 each.
Westmeath: N O'Brien 0-5 (4f), B Murtagh 1-1 (1-1 f), C Boyle 1-0, J Shaw, F Boyle and R Greville 0-1 each.
Wexford: Éanna Martin; Eoin Moore, Matthew O'Hanlon, Keith Rossiter; Darren Stamp, Ciarán Kenny, Richie Kehoe; David Redmond, Diarmuid O'Keeffe; P.J. Nolan, Garrett Sinnott, Harry Kehoe; Paul Morris, Diarmuid Lyng, Rory Jacob. Subs used: Gary Moore for Morris (44), Eoin Quigley for H. Kehoe (58), Jack Guiney for Jacob (64), Shaun Murphy for Redmond (64), Stephen Murphy for Stamp (67).
Westmeath: Shane McGovern; Conor Jordan, Adam Price, Paul Fennell; Paddy Dowdall, Alan McGrath, Paul Greville; Eoin Price, Joe Clarke; Aonghus Clarke, Frank Boyle, Robbie Greville; Niall O'Brien, Brendan Murtagh, John Shaw. Subs used: John Gilligan for E. Price (h/t), Andrew Dermody for Boyle (42), Tommy Gallagher for Fennell (46), David Fennell for A. Clarke (46), Cormac Boyle for R. Greville (49).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).