Westmeath manager Michael Ryan was delighted the midlanders stayed cool under pressure to earn a place in the Division 2A Allianz Hurling League decider.
Niall O’Brien’s last-gasp point ensured Westmeath recorded a win over Carlow at Cusack Park last Sunday.
“It didn’t look too good with four or five minutes to go,” Ryan admitted. “We were three or four points down. We weren’t playing particularly well. We were struggling in a few positions, but we kept at it and we got the goal.”
Trailing late on, Westmeath needed a goal which was brilliantly supplied by Cormac Boyle according to Ryan. “Two substitutes combined. Emmet Corrigan put Cormac Boyle through. Cormac had ran 100 yards to get into the position. It was a really good goal and of course Niall topped it off with a point from a free.”
Carlow shaded the opening period so Ryan was encouraged by Westmeath’s response. “I thought we were hurling well up until their goal and that goal was a game changer. We weren’t happy with the goal. From our point of view it wasn’t a good goal to concede. At half-time we were four points down, but we had a decent enough start to the second half getting three points.
“This is a good Carlow team. They are very strong in the air, they are physical, and they are good at winning ball. They had a lot of runners getting into good positions and we seemed to be in a lot of bother at stages in the second half.”
Despite the award of several controversial frees Ryan hailed the spirit his team showed.
“From our point of view there was great commitment from the players, it was a good game to win.
“I don’t know what the story is. I was involved in Division One hurling before and a lot of the frees that were given would not have been given. Different people referee the game in different ways. It is something we will have to look at.”
Carlow, who started the competition so impressively, have surprisingly struggled in recent weeks, but Ryan feels it is an achievement for Westmeath to beat them.
“When you look at the reality of it, Carlow beat Westmeath by something like 13 or 14 points last year. They are a decent side, they have a good backbone of players. Mount Leinster Rangers won the Leinster club championships two years ago. They didn’t even win the Carlow final last year. They also have three or four more clubs. We knew it was going to be a real tough battle, but thankfully we kept at it coming out on the right side of the result.”
The stylish manner Westmeath moved the sliotar for Boyle’s crucial major was a sign of what they can do.
“It was a really good team goal. In different aspects of the game I felt we played really well,” Ryan said. “A lot of guys will feel they have to improve for the next day.
“We need to get mentally and physically ready for what will be a big challenge.”
O’Brien’s cool composure at the end was significant too for Ryan. “He showed great character to take the free. He wasn’t having the best of days, the ball didn’t run for him on a few occasions, but that is the hallmark of a really good player. When the pressure is on and when you have to do it you step up to the plate. He stepped up to the plate.”
Now Kerry are next on the agenda for Westmeath in the League decider. Another battle awaits for Ryan’s charges.
“A couple of weeks ago Kerry had a man sent off at a vital stage. That match will have no bearing. It is a huge game now. The winners of that might be playing the likes of Antrim in a promotion/relegation game. There is a trophy and a cup at stake now, but we know we will have to perform to win the game.”