Westmeath’s Andrew Henson on a solo run against Louth during the Leinster MFC game last Wednesday. Photo: Louth GAA

Westmeath let lead slip and finish with 13 players

Louth 1-10 Westmeath 0-11

By Dalton Mac Namee

Heading into the final quarter, Westmeath looked a good bet to emerge from Hunterstown with a Leinster MFC opening round victory, having deservedly led Louth by 0-10 to 0-5.

Westmeath inside forwards James McHugh (Garrycastle) and William Scahill (Shandonagh) were particularly catching the eye. However, in chaotic final quarter, Westmeath were reduced to 14 men when Adam Henson was red-carded by referee Kieran Olwell for an off the ball incident. That did not appear to deter the visitors initially, with a McHugh free giving Eoghan Kevlihan’s side a 0-11 to 0-6 lead in the final ten minutes.

Numerical advantage eventually told, though and Louth midfielder Tom Maguire, who impressed throughout, fed forward Andrew O’Reilly, who burrowed his way through to fire a shot to the bottom corner from an acute angle, closing the gap to a solitary point (1-7 to 0-11) in that final five minutes.

With Louth in the ascendency, and a vocal home support behind them, the fight back was on in earnest.

O’Reilly’s major was quickly followed by a converted free from substitute Emmet Duffy to level things up, 1-8 to 0-11, as the clock approached 60 minutes.

Despite being under the cosh, Westmeath fought tooth and nail, with team captain Cian Whitney leading by example in defence, and a fine move led to James McHugh looking set to pull the trigger within range.

However, McHugh’s effort was bravely blocked down by Louth’s Donnach Skinnader as Louth upped their intensity levels down the home straight and a stunning score from the impressive Cillian McQuilan put the Wee County in front for the first time, before sub Brendan Cassidy clinched the win from play to break Westmeath hearts at the finish.

Next up for Westmeath is a home tie against Kildare this Wednesday (April 3) in Kinnegad (7.30pm). And despite the defeat to Louth, this Westmeath side will take a lot of positives from their performance.

With the breeze at their backs, Westmeath settled into the contest quicker, with James McHugh and William Scahill giving their markers a torrid time. McHugh especially caught they eye, kicking 0-7 over the hour in an impressive performance.

Backed by strong performances from Adam Smyth along with Mikey Weir and Daire O’Brien, the Lake County won 12 out of 19 first-half kickouts, including all seven of their own restarts, as they dominated large spells of this game.

However, they would rue kicking only 0-7 from 14 shots, including seeing a James McHugh penalty saved by Louth 'keeper Senan Connolly.

Despite that spotkick miss, McHugh continued to sparkle, accounting for 0-4 of his side’s first-half scores, to go with Scahill’s three, with that early supply of ball into the forwards paying dividends.

Louth managed to stay in contention with a fine mark from Andrew O’Reilly, as well some precise shooting from Cillian McQuilan, leaving it at 0-7 to 0-4 in the away side’s favour at the break.

Despite shooting into that breeze at the switch of ends, it was Westmeath who grabbed the opening two scores through McHugh, and a fine effort from Daragh Lough in a move involving Mikey Weir and Ben Sheerin to leave his side 0-9 to 0-4 ahead just a few minutes after half-time.

With Louth struggling for rhythm in attack, and floundering from free kicks, Westmeath seemed to be in command with James McHugh trading efforts with Andrew O’Reilly, leaving it at 0-10 to 0-5 heading into that final quarter.

But following that red card for Henson, Westmeath only managed another point in that quarter through James McHugh again (free) as Louth stepped up. Luke Keenan converted a free, before a mistake in the Westmeath defence while coming out with possession, resulted in Louth’s Tom Maguire finding Andrew O’Reilly, who held off his marker to fire into the bottom corner from an acute angle to set the cat amongst the pigeons, making 0-11 to 1-7 in the last five minutes.

Those scores from subs Emmet Duffy and Brendan Cassidy then arrived either side of McQuilan’s point from play, to seal victory for Louth and break Westmeath hearts in a frantic finish, which also saw Adam Smyth red-carded for a shell shocked Lake County side in the closing stages.

Player of the match: James McHugh (Westmeath). The Garrycastle player was a joy to watch, treating supporters to an exhibition of point taking, accounting for 0-7 of Westmeath’s final tally. McHugh and Scahill caused endless problems for the Louth defence, forcing the home side’s management into half-time changes in that department. The forward maintained his composure throughout the game, kicking some impressive frees in that second half against the breeze. While players like William Scahill, Mikey Weir and Adam Smyth were possible candidates, McHugh’s finishing gave him the nod as man of the match and certainly he looks like a precocious talent.

Louth: Senan Connolly; Rian Hickey, Ciaran Devine, Donnacha Skinnader; Michael McGlew, Ben McKeown, Conor Clinton; Tom Maguire, Michael O’Shaughnessy; Tadgh Devaney, Luke Keenan (0-2,1f), Cillian McQuilan (0-3); Fionn Coyle, Andrew O’Reilly (1-3, 0-2f, 1 mark), Joe Hanlon. Subs: Shane McMahon for Hickey (H-T), Emmet Duffy (0-1f) for O’Shaughnessy (41), Brendan Cassidy (0-1) for Hanlon (41).

Westmeath: Paul Keating; Ben McNamee, Cian Whitney, Ben Sheerin; Jack Carroll, Adam Smyth, Cormac McKeogh; Mikey Weir, Daire O’Brien; Andrew Henson, Ryan Flynn, Michael Moloney; William Scahill (0-3, 1 mark), Daragh Lough (0-1), James McHugh (0-7, 3f). Subs: Peadar Glennon for Moloney (H-T), Daire Burke for McNamee (41), Darragh Madden for Weir (59).

Referee: Kieran Olwell (Meath).