Killian Doyle bagged the decisive goal as Westmeath earned a 1-18 to 0-19 Leinster SHC Round Robin win over Meath at TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar, on Sunday.
With Laois defeating Kerry at Austin Stack Park, Tralee, Westmeath’s victory was sufficient to earn them a quarter-final assignment against Offaly.
Despite losing their first two championship fixtures to Laois and Kerry, Michael Ryan’s charges were resilient throughout a well-contested encounter with neighbours Meath.
Tommy Doyle was splendid at full back, while Killian Doyle contributed 1-3 in attack. Paul Greville, Robbie Greville, Alan Devine, and Aonghus Clarke were others praised by manager Ryan. Westmeath coped following the dismissal of Derek McNicholas to secure a hard-earned triumph.
“I think we deserved the victory,” Ryan remarked in a post-match interview with Midlands Sport 103. “We were a man down just before half time, that was unfortunate. We spoke at half time about the importance of using the ball very well in the second half.
“We put structures in place; we played Robbie inside with Alan Devine; we gave instructions what type of ball was to go in, and in fairness to the players I thought they played a very intelligent brand of hurling.
“We had some immense performances, Tommy Doyle at full back, Paul at centre back, Aonghus in the centre of the field, Robbie particularly in the second half, often marked by two or three men, but he still managed to win a load of possession, and he used it well. Killian Doyle’s goal was absolutely crucial.”
Another aspect which pleased Ryan was how the Midlanders battled after the early defeats to Laois and Kerry in the group.
“You must remember going into this game we had lost two championship games, so our confidence wasn’t at an all-time high,” Ryan reflected. “It took us a little while to get our confidence going, we spoke at half time about the importance of using the ball well, we felt we could win the game if we played smartly. I thought we picked off some great scores in the second half, particularly from long-range points.”
Killian Doyle’s opportunistic 51st-minute goal was vital according to Ryan.
“The game was so tight a goal was going to be crucial, it was always going to be the decisive score,” the Westmeath boss said. “If there is one single score that contributed to the victory it was the goal. I thought we worked the ball well, we put Killian in, he didn’t panic, that was a big score, no doubt about that. Having said that, there were other moments in the game. Some of our score-taking was excellent.”
Ryan also stressed that the passionate home crowd was a factor too.
“I thought the Westmeath spectators were outstanding the way they got behind the team,” Ryan stated. “There was a marvellous atmosphere. There is a real thirst for success and hurling down around here. I thought the spectators were magnificent and contributed handsomely to this victory.
Westmeath accomplished their mission of reaching the next stage of the competition to guarantee themselves at least two more championship fixtures in 2017.