• thebackdoorgaa


By Daire Walsh

Westmeath find themselves on the brink of a Joe McDonagh Cup final spot after the Lake County secured a 0-23 to 0-18 victory against Carlow in a Group A clash at Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday.

Despite the frustration of suffering five consecutive defeats in Division 1 Group A of the National Hurling League, Shane O’Brien’s side kick-started their summer with a hard-earned win over the Barrowsiders. Carlow had begun their campaign in fine fashion at St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge last weekend, getting the better of 2020 Christy Ring Cup champions Kildare on a scoreline of 2-22 to 3-16.

Chris Nolan was the main source for their scores on home soil, finishing the contest with 0-11 to his name. While Jon Nolan did chip in with three points, Carlow were perhaps too reliant on his highly-rated brother.

Westmeath, on the other hand, had a good spread of scorers throughout their team. Five of their six starting forwards contributed at least two points apiece, with Niall O’Brien and Killian Doyle recording 0-6 each.

Substitutes Josh Coll, Darragh Clinton and Alan Cox also added their names to the scoresheet in the second half to ensure Carlow were kept at bay. Former Galway hurler Davy Glennon also appeared off the bench and with All-Ireland titles at the minor, U21 and senior grades in his back pocket, his experience is invaluable to his adopted county.

Both Westmeath and Carlow are now on top points in the table, but the former will be back in action again next Saturday against Kildare in Mullingar. A positive result from this game would seal a decider place at Croke Park for Westmeath, though they are expected to encounter a stubborn resistance from the Lilywhites.

With wind advantage at their disposal during the opening period, Westmeath were hoping to lay down a significant marker. They certainly had their moments with O’Brien and Niall Mitchell leading the way from an attacking perspective.

Nevertheless, the visitors were struggling to create daylight and the accuracy of Chris Nolan kept Carlow in the frame. The sides were on level terms on no fewer than eight occasions in the first half and it came as little surprise that these Leinster rivals were inseparable at the break (0-12 apiece).

Wary of a rising challenge from Carlow on the resumption, Westmeath remained alert in defence with Tommy Gallagher and Tommy Doyle leading the way from the pivotal central positions. Still, Carlow edged in front for the very first time on 58 minutes and momentum appeared to be with Tom Mullally’s outfit inside the final-quarter.

Timely contributions from their reserves finally gave Westmeath some breathing space and while Carlow continued to push until the end, they will now be forced to wait to see if their season will extend beyond this fixture.

At Ballycran, Down had 12 different scorers in their 1-27 to 2-16 triumph over Meath in their second and final game of Group B.

The Mourne men fell to a six-point reversal at the hands of Kerry in Tralee last Saturday, but gave themselves a fighting chance of making the competition’s final with a convincing display against their eastern counterparts. In all likelihood Kerry will get the job done away to Meath in round three of this group, but Down should preserve their Joe McDonagh status at the very least.

A 0-11 haul made Paul Sheehan Down’s ace marksman on the day, with Ryan McCusker (1-1), Tim Prenter (0-3) and Eoghan Sans (0-2) others to feature prominently. An additional six players bagged a point each, including half-back duo Conor Woods and Liam Savage.

From a Meath point of view, Jack Regan did his utmost for the Royal cause by registering an impressive tally of 1-8. Alan Douglas also shook the net, while Paddy Conneely, James Toher and centre-back Darragh Kelly claimed a brace of points.

Unless they can pull off a shock win at Pairc Tailteann, Navan next weekend, Meath will be consigned to a relegation play-off against the bottom team in Group A.

Down were in a commanding position at the break, leading 0-14 to 0-9. A Douglas goal had Meath back on level terms 12 minutes into the second half and it wasn’t until McCusker raised a green flag in the 55th-minute that Down could breathe more easily.

A Regan three-pointer from a free just past the hour mark gave Meath a new lease of life, but Down outscored their opponents 0-7 to 0-2 in the closing minutes to round off a deserved victory.

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