Westmeath manager Michael Ryan admitted his side were “devastated” not to cause an All Ireland hurling qualifier shock against Limerick at Cusack Park on Saturday evening.
Despite a dynamic display from Westmeath, including a brilliant second quarter, the home team were eventually beaten 1-24 to 0-18 by Limerick.
In an eventful first half Limerick had Seanie O’Brien sent off, while Graeme Mulcahy netted a 26th-minute goal. But Westmeath, inspired by the excellent Niall O’Brien, departed at the interval leading by 0-13 to 1-9. When the action recommenced Westmeath remained competitive, but Limerick finished strongly to secure victory.
“Devastated is the word, there is no doubt about that,” Ryan reflected about the loss. “We got off to a poor enough start, we were four or five points down, but we played fantastic hurling after that for the rest of the first half.
“We missed a good goal chance through no fault of Cormac’s (Boyle ). Then, at the start of the second half, we felt we were in a really good place, we just didn’t drive it home. Four or five balls went into our full forward line at the start of the second half, we just didn’t get anything from them.
“We missed a penalty which was no fault of Brendan’s (Murtagh ). He is a great servant for Westmeath hurling. Overall, we are disappointed with the second half performance, we had played a lot of really good hurling in the first half. I really felt it was there for us, we just didn’t take it.”
Ryan also hailed the fine saves made by goalkeeper Paddy Maloney during the clash with the Treatymen, who face neighbours Clare at Semple Stadium in round 2 on Saturday evening. “If one of the top keepers in the country made those saves everybody would be singing about it,” Ryan said. “Unfortunately it might be forgotten about, but we won’t forget about it, and Limerick won’t forget about it. He has had a great year for us.”
Encouraged by how Westmeath fought throughout the game, Ryan felt that his team were primed to cause a huge upset. “I wasn’t worried at half-time. The way we play the game we use the ball very, very well. I felt that we would get chances in the second half, we probably did get chances, we didn’t take them.
“We conceded a few frees, Shane Dowling is going to point them all day long. We just needed to get a goal in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second half. It could have been a different story, but it is a game of inches.”
While Limerick eventually prevailed by nine points, Ryan felt that didn’t offer a fair reflection of what had happened. “I wouldn’t worry about the final scoreline at all, I’m just disappointed for the lads, they are a tremendous group of lads to work with. They’ve been incredible since last October, they’ve worked really hard, they probably deserve a bit better.
“Sometimes it is hard to make the breakthrough. If you can make that breakthrough I feel it would never be as hard again. There is plenty to work with, they are a decent bunch of fellas who can hurl and they played very well for lots of that game.
“For a lot of that game the quality of our hurling was very good. Overall, I’m very proud of the lads, I couldn’t have asked for more. I’ve no fault with anybody for a lack of commitment, everybody worked really hard. I’m just disappointed for them because they were so close for a lot of that game.”