An absorbing Leinster SHC Quarter-Final eventually ended in a 4-15 to 1-20 win for Offaly against Westmeath at TEG Cusack Park last Saturday evening (May 27 ).
Westmeath contributed to a thrilling encounter which was decided by a late burst from the Faithful County, who were able to secure a place in the penultimate round of the provincial championship.
A year ago Westmeath defeated Offaly in the round robin series and Michael Ryan’s team were excellent during the first half.
Despite conceding a goal to a Shane Dooley penalty, at the interval Westmeath led by 0-12 to 1-4 with Joey Boyle impressing.
After the restart Westmeath continued to cause Offaly problems, but Dooley and Emmet Nolan struck opportunistic goals for the visitors in the closing stages.
Killian Doyle netted a late goal for Westmeath, but Offaly were able to hold on to secure a semi-final meeting with Galway, who beat Dublin on Sunday.
“We gave away a couple of goals that we weren’t happy about, but overall it was a great game of hurling,” Westmeath manager Ryan remarked following the match.
“We were five points up at half time, I thought we were in a good enough position, Offaly came back at us, we weathered the storm, then we went up a couple of points again. They went five points up, we fought our way back in injury time, but ultimately we gave away another poor goal at the end.
“When you give away four goals it is hard to win a match, but having said that I’m really, really proud of our group of players. I thought they were outstanding, they played some fantastic hurling.
“We lost a few bodies before the game and we cannot afford to be without those, we probably don’t have the resources to replace all of those guys. Having said that we showed what Westmeath hurling is all about.”
Ryan praised the honesty and willingness of Offaly and Westmeath, who served up a dramatic contest in front of 3,105 spectators at the Midlands venue.
“It is a tribute to both teams, who played the game in a good sporting fashion, this is supposed to be the supporting act for the rest of the Leinster Hurling Championship, people don’t rate these teams, but they both showed that they can hurl,” Ryan said.
“It will bring Offaly on, I know they face a big test, but Offaly have proved before that when the chips are down they have a lot of good hurlers. This game will improve them immensely, I wish them the best of luck going forward.”
Westmeath fullback Tommy Doyle enhanced his growing reputation with another determined showing, which encouraged manager Ryan.
“Tommy in my opinion is possibly the best full back in Leinster,” Ryan says. “He is a really top class player; we have a lot of good players, we have a lot of young players, some of those guys played Wednesday night for the U21s and they have to play again on Wednesday which isn’t easy - it is very difficult, but we won’t complain about it. We will get up on the horse to go again.”
While Westmeath have lost three of their four championship matches in 2017 there was enough in the Offaly display to give Ryan’s developing team some hope and confidence ahead of the all-Ireland qualifiers.