Improved showing by minor hurlers
March 31, 2004
Despite a crushing defeat to Dublin in the Leinster quarter-final, it was by no means a bad year for the Westmeath minor hurlers who had recorded championship wins over Meath and Wicklow prior to then.
Westmeath underage hurling showed signs of a recovery in 2003 with the minor side reaching the Leinster championship quarter-final after winning out their section of the round-robin series.
And even though their Leinster championship aspirations ended with a heavy defeat to Dublin, Westmeath could still reflect on their most successful year since 1999 when they were narrowly defeated by Kilkenny in the provincial semi-final.
Under the guidance of Pat Clancy and his co-selectors Eamonn Clarke and Nicky Weir jnr, Westmeath showed a vast improvement on the previous year when they failed to win a single game in the championship. Westmeath's two outings in the Leinster league suggested that they would be capable of leaving their mark on the championship. In their opening game against Offaly, they put up a brave fight before succumbing to a 3-5 to 3-10 defeat. But that was followed by a fantastic 0-8 to 0-6 victory over Wexford.
After their league exploits, Westmeath were entitled to approach the Leinster championship in a confident frame of mind. Meath, who had also fared reasonably well in the league, provided the first round opposition at Cusack Park in early April.
The home side were slow to settle and despite good scores from Killian Cosgrove, Aaron Corrigan and Francis Boyle, trailed by 0-4 to 0-6 at the interval. On the resumption, the Westmeath attacks became more frequent and it wasn't long before Joe Clarke had the ball in the back of Meath net. But the Royals replied almost immediately with a similar score from Eric Broad to restore their lead.
With 10 minutes remaining, Westmeath continued to trail their neighbours, but they refused to panic and in the closing seven minutes, Cian O'Leary, Michael Curley, Joe Clarke and Killian Cosgrove fired over points to give them a 1-13 to 1-9 victory.
Seven days later, Westmeath were confirmed as group winners after they defeated Wicklow by 2-13 to 3-6 in Aughrim. The signs looked ominous for the visitors when they conceded two early goals to Sean Furlong and Alan Driver. But they hit back strongly with Cosgrove, Boyle and Corrigan all to the fore. Just before half-time, Cosgrove and Joe Clarke scored goals to leave Westmeath just a point adrift at the interval, 2-2 to 2-3.
Within a minute of the restart, Pat Clancy's side took the lead for the first time when Paul Greville and Cosgrove both found the target. Furlong brought Wicklow back onto level terms before further efforts from Cosgrove, Boyle and Curley pushed Westmeath four points clear.
In the final quarter, the home side were thrown a lifeline when Furlong knifed through the Westmeath defence to beat Peter Collins from close range. But two late points from man of the match Cosgrove sealed a deserved win for the visitors.
Despite having to travel to Parnell Park for their Leinster quarter-final against Dublin on May 10, Westmeath quietly fancied their chances. But the game quickly turned into a nightmare for the maroon and whites who were crushed on a 0-3 to 1-16 scoreline.
While Dublin were deserving winners, they were flattered to be so far in front at the final whistle. Nothing went right for Westmeath on a day when their shooting sadly left a lot to be desired. Free-taking, in particular, proved to be a major problem and it must have been hugely frustrating for Pat Clancy to see his side register a whopping 19 wides over the hour.
Few could have predicted such a one-sided contest after Dublin's Barry Kennedy and Killian Cosgrove exchanged early points. However, Westmeath's shortcomings was clinically punished by the home side who led by 0-6 to 0-1 after 15 minutes and 0-10 to 0-1 at half-time.
Westmeath briefly threatened a revival on the restart when Corrigan and Cosgrove both slotted over frees. But they were unable to keep the momentum going and failed to score again. Westmeath's misery was compounded when Peadar Carton set up substitute Darragh Walsh for a Dublin goal in the closing stages. To say that Westmeath were a disheartened lot as they left Donnycarney would surely be an understatement.
In September, Westmeath regrouped for the All-Ireland 'B' championship. Unfortunately, the championship wasn't taken seriously with just 17 players making themselves available for the trip to Nenagh for the quarter-final against Kerry.
Despite fielding a depleted team, however, Westmeath defied the odds to win on a 4-10 to 2-10 scoreline. Kerry started the better and led by 0-3 to 0-0 at the end of the third quarter. But Westmeath then took control with Derek McNicholas (penalty) and Eamonn Og Clarke scoring goals in quick succession. Killian Cosgrove and Aaron Corrigan tagged on points to give the midlanders a 2-2 to 0-6 lead at the break.
By the midway stage of the second half, Westmeath had effectively put the result beyond doubt thanks to a further brace of goals from Joe Clarke and his cousin Eamonn Og. Colm MacElligott and Reggie Gallivan managed late goals for the Kingdom, but they failed to alter the outcome.
The performance in Nenagh raised hopes of outright success in the championship, but when Meath came to Mullingar seeking revenge for their Leinster championship defeat of five months earlier, Westmeath's lack of preparatory work was there for all to see.
Despite being able to call on a much stronger panel that the one that played Kerry, Westmeath proved no match for their opponents who coasted to a 3-10 to 1-3 victory. The Royals dominated from the off and, helped by a Donal Kirwan goal, they led by 1-8 to 0-2 at the interval. Meath had stretched their advantage to 3-9 to 0-2 before a late goal from Derek McNicholas salvaged some pride for the home side.
The Westmeath team which played Dublin in the Leinster minor hurling championship quarter-final was: Christy Maloney; Stephen Nulty, Paul Greville, Michael Curley; Michael Garvin, Derek McNicholas, Christopher Austin; Shane Leavy, Martin Egan; Francis Boyle, Aaron Corrigan, Peter Collins; Eamonn Og Clarke, Joe Clarke, Killian Cosgrove. Subs used: Graham Dillon, Brian Conlon, Blaine Lehart, Liam Corcoran and Sean Maguire.
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