By Jack Flynn
Westmeath 0-19, Cork 0-8
It was billed as the “Clash of the Mini-Titans.” Westmeath and Cork, tied for second place behind Donegal in Senior Football Div. I, squared off at Gaelic Park on Sunday, with the winner guaranteed a trip to the semifinals.
Westmeath won the contest convincingly, 0-19 to 0-8, a victory that left them standing alone in second place and propelled them into the playoffs. Cork, which suffered its first defeat of the season, is by no means out of the running, but now finds itself in the midst of a three-team dogfight with Leitrim and Stamford for the final two playoff slots.
Westmeath established supremacy early, scoring the first five points of the match and dominating on both sides of the ball. Kieran O’Sullivan tallied twice, and Dave Fitzgerald, Cathal Kenny and Damien Healy also put balls over the bar.
Cork, who are notoriously slow starters, finally responded with an Eamon McCarthy free to make the score 0-5 to 0-1. But Westmeath were still rolling, and used points from Kenny and Fitzgerald to take a 6-point lead.
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Westmeath seemed a step ahead of Cork throughout the first half, getting to more balls and therefore getting more scoring opportunities. Even when Cork were able to generate a few chances of their own, either Westmeath defenders cut them off or Cork attackers struck the ball wide.
McCarthy and Dennis Kiley provided points in an attempt to right Cork’s ship before halftime, but a point for Westmeath’s Brian McCabe made the score 0-8 to 0-3 at the break.
Cork has fashioned a reputation for providing wild and exciting second halves in 1998, and for a while it seemed they would do the same in this match.
After Healy and Fitzgerald led off with points to make the score 0-10 to 0-3 in favor of Westmeath, Cork scored four of the next five points to narrow the gap to just 4.
McCarthy tallied three of those points, and Westmeath could counter only with a lonely O’Sullivan score. With the score 0-11 to 0-7 and the match’s momentum subtly beginning to shift, Cork began looking for the goal that would vault them right into the thick of things.
That goal was never scored. Instead, Westmeath scored four straight points to take an 0-15 to 0-7 lead and essentially close the door on their opponents. O’Sullivan, who had a strong match from the center forward position, scored two of the points.
After McCarthy’s sixth point on the afternoon brought Cork to within 7, Westmeath ran off another string of four straight points to close out the scoring. Fitzgerald, McCabe, Kieran McManus and Jurgen Werner rounded out the scoring for their side.
The well-played victory makes Westmeath a legitimate contender for the senior football Div. I crown. They basically dismantled a side that no other team had been able to get the better of before Sunday and have now removed themselves from what was a four-team battle for the remaining three playoff bids.
Cork, meanwhile, find themselves in the unenviable position of having to defeat league leaders Donegal in an effort to assure themselves of a playoff berth. Donegal now stands alone as the only unbeaten team in Senior Football Div. I, making Cork’s task seem all the more daunting.
If Cork cannot get the better of Donegal when they square off, they will have to hope for negative results in either Stamford or Leitrim’s final matches to make it to the playoffs.
Westmeath scorers: Fitzgerald and O’Sullivan 0-5; Healy Kenny, McManus and McCabe 0-2; Werner 0-1.
Cork: E. McCarthy 0-6, Kiley and R. McCarthy 0-1.