Lake lads in minor Royal rumble
Leinster Minor Hurling Championship Tier 2 Group 1
Westmeath got the Leinster Minor Championship off to the perfect start with this rout of neighbours Meath in TEG Cusack Park last Saturday afternoon and make no mistake, this was even more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.
Midway through the second half, the Lake county lads led by 15 points and could have won by more, but slackened off towards the end and let in two late consolation goals. But Westmeath, who led by six points at the break, were the better team throughout this contest and showed signs that they may be a force to be reckoned with.
Fielding a very young side with 11 still eligible next year, Westmeath took to their task in eager fashion and Pat Clarke’s charges showed a team spirit and ethic rarely seen at this grade from a team in Maroon. They showed no mercy to near neighbours Meath who, despite battling bravely, were completely second best on this occasion.
“We got off to great start, settled well and despite a dip thereafter we kept the momentum up and the two goals in the second half really stamped our authority on the game,” was how Clarke saw it and, in truth, that was a fair and accurate summary of a welcome win for Westmeath in what was generally a bleak weekend.
Westmeath started like a train, leading by five points after 10 minutes, with points from Winston Larkin McHugh, Ben McNamee and three frees from the deadly accurate Conor Heffernan. Kyle Ennis and Fergal Flynn pulled two back for Meath as they had purple patch and after another Heffernan free, Rain Fay and Ennis from a free brought the lead to just two with 23 minutes on the clock.
Heffernan extended the lead with another placed ball, but Patrick Jordan kept the Royals in touch with a super score from an acute angle as the half wore to a close. Westmeath upped the ante just on the approach to half-time when Heffernan made a brilliant catch, shipped to Conor Leech and under extreme pressure, the Na Piarsaigh man found the bottom corner of the net with a wonderful goal. He followed it up moments later with an equally sublime point that saw Westmeath lead by six points, 1-8 to 0-5, at the short whistle.
If Westmeath were a little disappointed with their first half return from their superiority then they began the second half trying to set that right with two more Heffernan frees before Ennis pulled one back with a placed ball for Meath. But the Westmeath boys were in no mood to relinquish their lead this time and Caolan Ready and Ben McNamee combined for the latter to score a superb second goal on 37 minutes, followed 60 seconds later by the former punishing some slack Meath defending for goal number three with another accomplished finish.
The Lake County were now fully in motion: Meath pulled a goal back when Ennis, their best player by far, was able to nip in after what looked a foul on Westmeath captain Darragh Smith. But they responded well with four more deadly placed-ball strikes from Heffernan as the pressure became too much for the Meath defence.
Meath finished well, however and two late goals from Eoin Kelleher took the mean look off the result, but they were defensive aberrations rather than chances created which is, perhaps something that Westmeath will need to work on going forward. However, the scoring was completed by Westmeath sub Dylan Corrigan with a marvellous point, after Heffernan set him up and from there to the end, it was merely a matter of playing out time to the games inevitable conclusion.
Scorers - Westmeath: Conor Heffernan 0-12 11 frees, Conor Leech and Ben McNamee 1-1 each, Caolan Ready 1-0, Winston Larkin McHugh and Dylan Corrigan 0-1 each.
Meath: Kyle Ennis 1-3 (2 frees), Eoin Kelleher 2-0, Fergal Flynn, Rian Fay and Patrick Jordan 0-1 each.
Westmeath: Sean Clarke; Mikey Weir, Jack Murtagh, Darragh Kenny; Darragh Smith, Conaire Martin, Neale Pierson; Carl McCormack, Cormac McKeogh; Conor Leech, Winston Larkin McHugh, Eoin Meehan; Conor Heffernan, Caolan Ready, Ben McNamee. Subs; Dylan Corrigan for Meehan (55 mins), Padraig Casey for Leech (56 mins), Sean Hayes for Larkin McHugh (52 mins).
Meath: Darren O’Higgins; Jamie Kavanagh, Fionn McHale, Conor McNally; Patrick Moran, Anthony Healy, Sean Betson; Fergal Flynn, Tiernan Anderson; Mark Leavy, Rian Fay, Malachy Fisher; Luke Ennis, Patrick Jordan, Kyle Ennis.
Subs: Eoin Kelleher for Luke Ennis (H/T), Conor Murphy for Kavanagh (44), Odhran Daly for Moran and Conor Godkin for Fisher (55 mins), Adam O’Neill for Jordan (59 mins).
Referee: Kyle Waters
Examiner’s Eye on the game
Man Of The Match
Darragh Smith (Westmeath): Ennis tried hard for Meath but the real stars were in Maroon, with Martin, Leech, Ready and McNamee giving outstanding displays. Conor Heffernan finished with 12 points and was quite impressive, but the team was led superbly by Darragh Smith at wing back and he just gets the nod here.
View from the winning camp
Afterwards, Westmeath manager Pat Clarke was more than happy with his charges.
“There are an awful lot of positives from today and also plenty to work on as we have no game now for two weeks. We will try to rectify the errors, but these lads are so committed and love to wear the Westmeath jersey and are eager to learn. They know each other so well. It makes my job a lot easier. But we're really happy with the effort that they are putting in,” he remarked.
Clarke’s reaction is a sentiment we would echo as it was the collective that outshone the individual on Saturday and that is something we haven’t been able to say for a while with Westmeath teams. With many of these lads underage again in 2024, it bodes well and they are to be commended on a fine team display.