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Mixed emotion for Down boss Sheehan following draw with Westmeath

Monday 6th May 2024

Joe McDonagh Cup: Down 3-19 Westmeath 1-25

After a pulsating share of the Joe McDonagh Cup points with Westmeath in misty conditions in Ballycran on Saturday afternoon, Down manager Ronan Sheehan said that he was “disappointed and delighted in equal measure”.

His disappointment clearly came from not seeing out a game they looked the more likely to win in the closing stages, but his delight stemmed from “our boys reacting outstandingly well to come from nine points down (after 15 minutes) against a team as good as Westmeath.”

Westmeath started the game very brightly and they had five unanswered points on the board with just six minutes elapsed, two of them coming from David O’Reilly.

The dominant visitors led by 0-9 to 0-3 with a quarter of an hour elapsed when Killian Doyle was gifted a goal chance which he took with aplomb.

In the 18th minute, Tom McGrattan brought the Ardsmen right back into contention with a well-taken goal.

Much of the play was scrappy at this juncture, but Down now had more possession than in the opening quarter and good work by Daithí Sands teed up McGrattan for his second three-pointer in the 32nd minute to leave the bare minimum between the sides (1-12 to 2-8).

Killian Doyle had been accurate from frees until he was replaced by his twin brother Ciaran just ahead of half-time, and the Lake County led by 1-15 to 2-10 at the interval.

A great brace of points from play by the outstanding Pearse Óg McCrickard had the home team ahead for the first time (2-13 to 1-15) in the 32nd minute.

Down led by three points when McGrattan completed his hat-trick in fine style in the 44th minute and the lead yo-yoed thereafter with some terrific scores at either end.

The evenly-matched teams were tied (1-24 to 3-18) at the end of the regulation 70 minutes, and a minimum of three minutes’ additional time was announced.

McCrickard looked to have won the day for Down with another successful free, but Westmeath’s veteran full-back Tommy Doyle cleverly rescued a point for his team – their first of a disappointing campaign – with time almost up.

Sheehan said: “It was a great game of hurling in which we put down a statement performance against a team that has been in Division One regularly, and we still have a chance of making the final.”

They have never been there previously.

Conversely, Joe Fortune’s Westmeath, one of the pre-competition favourites, are now out of contention for the trophy they won in 2021, in addition to being losing finalists in both 2018 and 2019.

Down: S Keith; M Conlan, C Cassidy, D Mallon; C Taggart, R McCrickard, J McManus; D Hughes (0-1), L Savage; P Óg McCrickard (0-13, 0-9 frees), E Sands, T McGrattan (3-2); D Sands (0-1), F Turpin, T Prentar. Subs: P Savage (0-2) for Prenter (16), T Murray for McManus (20), B Trainor for Mallon (35+1), P Sheehan for Turpin (69), M Fisher for McCrickard (70+3).

Westmeath: N Conaty; J Bermingham, T Doyle (0-1), C Gaffney; A Clarke (0-1), D Egerton, A Craig; P Clarke, K Regan (0-2); N Mitchell, D Williams (0-4 0-2 frees), O McCabe (0-1); D O’Reilly (0-5), K Doyle (1-7, 0-7 frees), E Keyes. Subs: J Mulkearns for Conaty (inj., 10), C Doyle (0-2, 0-1 free) for K Doyle (inj., 35+1), C McCormack for A Clarke (49), D Clinton (0-2) for Keyes (54) J Gillen for McCabe (67).

Referee: J Connors (Donegal)