Westmeath’s hugely talented minor hurling team came agonisingly close to causing what would have been a seismic and historic upset before ultimately losing out by two points to hot favourites Kilkenny in Cusack Park last Saturday.
Ray Gavin’s young side entered the game full of confidence on the back of impressive wins over Carlow and Laois but were always going to be underdogs against their illustrious opponents.
In many ways it turned out to be a classic game of two halves. Kilkenny were first to settle and wasted little time in taking a commanding lead. Nerves seemed to play a big part in the Lakelander’s opening half showing as they struggled to turn possession into scores.
The Cats were very much in the driving seat at the break with a 2-5 to 0-2 lead and the bonus of wind advantage still to come in the second half. Many would have been forgiven for thinking the margin of victory was all that was in doubt at that stage.
However that would have been to underestimate the resolve, character, and most of all talent of the young Westmeath men. Whatever was said at half time certainly had the desired effect as the home side dominated much of the second half during which they outscore the visitors by 1-9 to 0-5.
The sizeable home support witnessed a magnificent comeback which saw their young guns come from nine points down to draw level with five minutes remaining, with Niall O’Brien bagging the goal.
With the game in the balance and a huge shock on the cards, Westmeath squandered a number of good opportunities to take the lead. Kilkenny were not as wasteful and used all of their experience to seal matters with two late points.
Thankfully this is not the end of the road for the gallant Westmeath who now face Offaly in a back-door quarter-final in Tullamore on Saturday week. A repeat of the second-half performance would surely give them a great chance of accounting for our neighbours and thereby securing a semi-final spot. This is certainly a team worthy of support in O’Connor Park on May 21.