By Pierce O’Reilly
Westmeath 4-8, Sligo 0-12
The last game of the day pitted struggling Sligo against improving Westmeath. The Westerners, however, surprised everyone with their new-look outfit and if they hadn’t conceded a simple goal on the stroke of halftime, they might have upset the raging favorites.
Sligo led by five points with two minutes to go in the half. Wexford native John Hegarty was their best attacker in this period and with Brian Curran they accounted for 0-6 of the first half tally. Westmeath fielded without the suspended Kieran Walsh and looked lethargic and lackluster in many sectors. Their full back line was ran ragged for long periods and if it wasn’t for import Kieran McCabe at the other end, they would surely have lost this tie.
McCabe hit the first of his two goals after 10 minutes when he reacted fastest to a breaking ball in front of goal. The All-Ireland medal holder pounced from the edge of the small square to punch the ball to the back of the net after Padraig Hurley free hit the crossbar. Sligo however, never lost focus and a further five points from play gave them a clear advantage. Curran, Hegarty and wing forward Alan Brogan all found the target with some exquisite points. Not for the first time, Westmeath manager P.J. Quinn pulled a masterstroke on the sideline. He saved his sinking ship with several tactical switches and while his side still stuttered to the half time whistle they were still at least still afloat. Sligo had dominated in every sector in the first half yet they only had two points to show for it at the interval. Kieran McCabe’s late strike in the half erasing all the good work that Sligo had done over the first thirty minutes.
Instead of being five points in front at the interval, the Westerners led by two. Within three minutes of the restart the sides were level. Two early frees from Finbar Wright and Padraig Hurley leveled the game. A minute later the Midlanders went in front with McCabe landing an easy free.
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Sligo were shell-shocked. They had played outstanding football in the opening half and yet they had nothing to show for it. Westmeath substitute Vernon Gallagher found the net to give his side a three-point cushion after 10 minutes. Brian McCabe and Enda Henry sett Gallagher free and he rifled home from close range. Sligo heads dropped. Terry Rossiter hit back with a free to rally his troops but it wasn’t to be. Enda Henry, now improving on the half forward line, responded and with Sam Yore driving on his side from around the middle, they continued to dominate.
Five minutes later Gallagher struck for goal No. 2. It was a carbon copy move to the earlier strike: McCabe and Yore setting Gallagher free in front of the posts to boot home for his second goal. Kieran McCabe put Westmeath eight in front with an individual score from play before Sligo managed their second score of the half. The Westerners got their point from substitute Noel Fitzgerald. Finbar Wright hit the crossbar a minute later, when he collected the ball behind the Sligo rearguard. Kieran McCabe put the final nail in the Sligo coffin with another point from play with still 10 minutes to play. Substitute Ronan McDonald hit another late point for the Midlanders before Conor Healy struck back for Sligo.
So, it was another defeat for the Westerners, who were dealt a lethal blow with time running out in the first half. McCabe’s two goals were the difference between the sides. Westmeath were in trouble at this juncture, but when Quinn and Co. made there move on the sideline, it worked a treat once again.
Sligo: Dermot Fleming, Eamon Duffy, Barry Cahill, Eunan Moyler, Sean Cunnie, Darragh Breen, Michael Burns, David Caffery, Padraig Brennan, Alan Brogan 0-1, Terry Rossiter 0-3, Brian Curran 0-4, Conor Healy 0-1, John Hegarty 0-2, Damien Hynes. Subs: Noel Fitzgerald 0-1.
Westmeath: Kieran Traynor, Tom Moriarty, Peter Dalton, Dave Bailey, Math Kilroy, Brian McCabe, Tom Quinn, Sam Yore 0-1, Padraig Hurley 0-1, Pat Foley, Enda Henry 0-1, Barney Healy, Finbar Wright 0-1, Kieran McCabe 2-3, Peader Reynolds. Subs: Vernon Gallagher 2-0, Gareth Bailey, Ronan McDonald 0-1.