By Mike Fitzpatrick
The warriors of Westmeath entered the den of the Limerick lions and came away with a hugely impressive eight point victory in this senior hurling clash.
Going into the tie, Limerick sat proudly atop the senior hurling table, while Westmeath, battling for victory all season, languished four places and five points behind them. Limerick have already qualified for the playoffs, but no team likes to lose at Gaelic Park, especially champion sides such as Limerick.
Westmeath, following this victory, are almost there, but this huge stride forward will count for nothing should Waterford and Clare win their remaining games.
Defeating Offaly last week at Gaelic Park thanks to the huge scoring contribution from weekender David Cuddy from Laois, a tally of three goals and thirteen points was certainly one of the highest personal contributions from any player from either code has registered in recent seasons at Gaelic Park. Cuddy was missing from this game, though his teammates of last week had enough scoring lieutenants in their side as backup.
Damian Cleere took over the scoring with a goal and nine points to his credit to defeat this mighty Limerick side, and along with the considerable talents of Brian Daly, Brian McCabe and Ronan O’Hara, they always looked capable of winning this one.
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Entering the tie as certain underdogs, Westmeath went on the attack and scored points in the opening quarter, thanks to over the bar efforts from Cleere, Daly and midfielder Paddy Corcoran.
Limerick were clearly aware that they had a fight on their hands, and a point and an equalizing goal from Brendan Cagney brought them back into the tie. Westmeath retaliated in kind, and further points from Damian Gavin, and a goal from Cleere gave them a healthy lead going into the break.
The second half was really more of the same stuff from Westmeath.
Limerick upped the ante a little, bringing Morgan Burns more into the game and scoring a couple of points.
Substitute Neil Byrd arrived on the pitch for Limerick to hit a goal, and he came close with another effort minutes later which narrowly sailed wide.
Despite these Limerick scores, the tide flowed in the favor of Westmeath for the remainder of the second half. Substitute David Surliss was introduced early in the half, and hit a trio of points over the bar to increase a lead Westmeath seemed to have no intentions of letting slip.
Westmeath were clearly a side with a mission, and they were painfully aware that had they lost this one, their championship hopes would have lain in tatters. As things stand following this tie, Limerick and Tipp are still through, the hopes of Westmeath have increased considerably, though results from Waterford and Clare hold a huge say in which of the three sides reaches the playoffs.
Limerick: Finbarr Flood, Michael Crowley, Owen McKenna, Aidan O’Connor, John O’Riordan, Tom Simms, Eamonn Shields, James McSweeney, Justin Daly, Morgan Burns (0-2), Cathal Roche (0-2), Brendan Cagney (1-2), Tom Canty. Subs: Neil Bird (1-0)
Westmeath: Mark Briody, Peter Dalton, Colm Reilly, Kenny McGinlay, Brian McCabe, Jimmy Hughes, Damian Gavin (0-1), Paddy Corcoran (0-1), Damian Cleere (1-9), John Ryan, Brian Daly (0-1), Ronan O’Hara (0-2) Subs: David Surliss (0-3), Ronan Mulligan.