Young hurlers pull off All-Ireland double

April 30, 2011
The future looks bright for Westmeath hurling after the All-Ireland minor and under 16 'B' championships were captured within the space of seven days last summer. Here, we take a look back at both successes.

2010 will go down as one of Westmeath hurling's most successful years with All-Ireland success being achieved in the senior, minor, under 16 and under 14 grades.
Following on from the senior side's third Christy Ring Cup triumph and the phenomenal achievements of the Castletown-Geoghegan and Raharney under 14 teams at the All-Ireland Feile na nGael in Clare, the Westmeath under 16 and minor sides brought further silverware to the county when they both claimed All-Ireland 'B' honours in the space of a week in late August/early September.
After opting - somewhat controversially - for the prestigious Arrabawn tournament in Tipperary over the All-Ireland under 16 'B' championship in 2009, Westmeath decided to compete in the latter competition last year, and as hosts, they delighted the locals with their fourth success at this level and first since 1991.
Their 3-8 to 3-5 victory over Kildare in the final at Cusack Park secured the Adrian Murray Cup, which is named after the late, great Westmeath and Crookedwood GAA stalwart, for the first time. Adrian's wife Patsy was on hand to present the cup to the winning Westmeath captain Niall O'Brien, while he would also have been very proud of the fact that his daughter Susan was part of the Westmeath management set-up along with Ray Gavin (St. Brigid's), Paul Moore (Brownstown), Jody Murray (Castlepollard) and Ciaran Williams (Lough Lene Gaels).
Played in a blitz format over the course of August 28, Westmeath qualified for the final on the back of victories over Carlow, Down and Mayo. Kildare proved a tough proposition in the decider and led by 2-3 to 1-3 at half-time thanks to goals from Niall Walsh and Gerry Keegan, with Niall O'Brien accounting for Westmeath's major.
But a brace of goals from full forward Kieran Glennon in the opening 10 minutes of the second half put Westmeath in the driving seat and they went on to seal victory courtesy of points from Robbie Greville (two), O'Brien (three) and Emmet Corrigan.
Niall O'Brien also played a starring role for the Westmeath minor side in their capture of the All-Ireland 'B' championship a week later at Pairc Tailteann in Navan. After beating Meath and Laois, and losing narrowly to Offaly in the Leinster championship earlier in the summer, Westmeath came into the championship as favourites and lived up to that billing with wins over Wicklow, Meath and Kildare, with young O'Brien's contribution of 2-7 against the Lilywhites in the final proving crucial.
Westmeath signalled their intentions by hammering a hapless Wicklow side by 7-26 to 0-7 in the quarter-final at Arklow. The Lake County management of Pat O'Brien, Pat Clancy, Christo Murtagh and Paddy Walsh would have learned little from this mis-match which was already over as a contest by half-time with the winners leading by 3-14 to 0-3. Niall O'Brien had a field day, helping himself to 3-7, while Enda Kincaid weighed in with 3-3 and David Higgins also got in on the goal-scoring act.
In contrast, the Lake County didn't have things their own way against Meath and Kildare. Meath, who Westmeath had brushed aside by 18 points in the Leinster championship, put up a much better showing in the semi-final at Navan. Indeed, the visitors were relieved to come away with a slender 1-12 to 1-10 victory.
At half-time, the victors led by 1-7 to 0-7 thanks to Aonghus Clarke's 20th minute goal, but they struggled to kill off Meath, who had regained parity with 10 minutes remaining, before late points from Neal Kirby and Niall O'Brien edged Westmeath over the line.
Pat O'Brien's charges returned to Pairc Tailteann for the final on September 4, seeking to go one better than the previous year when they lost to Kerry. And with the manager's son in fine scoring form, the Lake County prevailed on a 2-12 to 1-12 scoreline.
Both of the Castletown-Geoghegan youngster's goals came in the first half which ensured Westmeath of a 2-4 to 0-8 interval lead. O'Brien's first major helped his side to a 1-2 to 0-2 lead after 11 minutes, but Kildare responded with five unanswered points, including two from midfielder Fergal Conway, to edge ahead by 0-7 to 1-3 after 21 minutes. However, O'Brien's second goal restored Westmeath's lead coming up to half-time.
The under 16 star missed the chance to complete his hat-trick just after the restart when he drove a penalty over the bar. Kildare kept plugging away and levelled through Dean Farrell, but Westmeath then began to dominate and scored seven unanswered points per O'Brien (four), centre back Anthony Price (two) and Aonghus Clarke to open up a 2-12 to 0-11 lead.
Kevin Connor grabbed an injury-time goal for the Lilywhites, but it was a case of too little, too late as Westmeath held on to claim their first All-Ireland minor 'B' title since 1999.
"I said earlier in the year that once we'd a good run at Leinster, we need to give this championship the respect it deserves," a buoyant Westmeath manager Pat O'Brien said afterwards.
"It's the same as the Christy Ring or the All-Ireland 'B' years ago for adults. This is our third final in-a-row and, after last weekend's win at under 16 and now this at under 18, we will hope to make progress from there."
Commenting on his son's scoring heroics, the manager added: "Niall is a lively forward. He's an under 16 player with no adult experience, but he's a great eye for a goal. He has that belief that he can score and he showed it today that he is well capable of playing at any level."
Of course, the big challenge for Westmeath now is to build on last year's successes and to be competitive at the highest level.

The victorious Westmeath under 16 hurling squad was: Conor Lynch, John Egan, Thomas Egan, Ciaran Morrison, Cian Quinn, Gary Greville, Jason Coyle, Tommy Gallagher, Sam Moran, Emmet Corrigan, Robbie Greville, Alan Clarke, Niall O'Brien, Kieran Glennon, Michael Murray, Brendan Doyle, Ian Hyland, Eoin Quinn, Stephen Keegan, Finbar Thompson, Daniel Sheridan, Colin Fitzsimons, Pearse Shaw, Cian Brennan, Ian McCormack, Sean Mullarkey, Scott Hynes, Alan Clune, Niall Coates, Luke Craig.

Westmeath's All-Ireland minor 'B' championship winning team was: Niall Kelly; Tommy Gallagher, Thomas Doyle, Diarmuid Garvin; Kelvin Reilly, Anthony Price, Paddy Layde; Aaron Craig, Shane Fagan; Enda Kincaid, Davy Gavin, David Higgins; Niall O'Brien, Aonghus Clarke, Neal Kirby. Subs used: Joey Boyle and Dean McDermott.

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