Allianz NHL Div 2A Round 4
At McGovern Park, Ruislip
London will go into their relegation decider with Kildare next Sunday at McGovern Park (1pm) on the back of their best performance of the league campaign so far.
Fergus McMahon’s Exiles face the Lilywhites knowing that the loser will be playing Division 2 hurling next year, with both sides winless after four rounds.
But while Kildare were second best to Carlow by 15 points on Sunday, the Exiles pushed table topping Westmeath all the way in Ruislip, before Michael Ryan’s side could celebrate a fourth consecutive win.
It might have been a different story, though, had John Gilligan been able to take Robbie Greville’s handpass, when presented with a sight of goal with less than 60 seconds on the clock.
He couldn’t and London breathed a sigh of relief, and with a strong wind at their backs the home side opened the scoring through a Richard Murphy free.
Cormac Boyle and Ciaran Doyle soon had the visitors in front, but the strength of the wind was all too apparent when strikes from distance from Darren Moore and Kevin Reid sailed over the Westmeath bar.
Murphy added a free and the home side led by two and were looking good – it was hard to tell which of the two teams on display had won all of their opening three games and which had lost all three.
Westmeath frustration was growing. When Eoin Price was fouled and lost his helmet in the process, something said by the midfielder to referee John Keane saw a very scoreable free opportunity turned into a ‘hot ball’.
Henry Vaughan, back in London colours, pointed after Westmeath had partially succeeded in pushing London backwards, only for the Exiles to somehow find a way through.
It was a fine score and one which encapsulated London’s new found confidence, mixed with a total commitment to the cause. While the home side were struggling to get their ball to stick up front, they were tigerish in defence.
Allan Devine’s free briefly closed the gap, only for former Cork senior hurler Killian Burke to mark his Exiles debut with a score, as his wind-assisted free found its target.
‘Wake up’ was the cry from the Westmeath bench and it nearly resulted in the game’s opening goal as Darragh Egerton and Robbie Greville combined only for Ciaran Doyle to be denied by Jack Barron.
A late Murphy free ensured the Exiles went in at the break leading by two, 0-7 to 0-5. Within three minutes of the restart, however, London’s lead was wiped out and in the most unfortunate of circumstances.
Aaron Craig’s ball in was carried by the wind, and with Barron backpedalling came back off the crossbar invitingly for Niall Mitchell to hook it home from close range.
It was a soft goal for London to concede, and there was worse to come just five minutes later. Again the ball in came from Craig, with Doyle setting up Mitchell to claim his second goal.
Derek McNicholas added a free and 11 minutes into the second half Westmeath led by five.
Quite a turnaround and on the back of the home side’s previous results one couldn’t help but wonder if Westmeath were about to run riot.
Devine added a free with the London forward line, as they have been throughout this campaign, living off scraps and unable to make anything of the ball that did find its way in.
Reid ended 14 scoreless minutes for the Exiles by landing a free and substitute Joseph Troy found space to fire over.
London had weathered the storm; the Westmeath riot never materialised. With 11 minutes to go it was suddenly game on again.
Reid’s free broke to Michael Ivors and he fired low past Shane McGovern on the turn. Just a solitary point now separated the sides.
Devine pointed twice to settle Westmeath a touch, but London, starved of possession in their forwards, thought they were level three minutes from time when Ivors and Martin Duggan combined, and Stephen Lohan beat Mc- Govern.
But London celebrations were quickly cut short as Lohan was ruled to have thrown the ball into the net. That was London’s last chance gone as Devine and John Gilligan tagged on late scores to see Westmeath home, but it had been a far closer run thing that many had envisaged.
The Exiles will look to take the positives from this performance into Sunday’s must-win clash with Kildare.
WESTMEATH: Shane McGovern; Shane Power, Tommy Doyle, Gary Greville (0- 1); Aaron Craig, Paul Greville, Derek McNicholas (0-1f); Robbie Greville, Eoin Price; John Gilligan (0-1), Niall Mitchell (2-0), Darragh Egerton; Allan Devine (0-6, 3f), Ciaran Doyle (0-2), Cormac Boyle (0-1). Subs: Darragh Clinton for Price (50min), Noel Conaty for Doyle (59min), Alan Cox for Egerton (69min).
LONDON: Jack Barron; Lee Murphy, Brian Regan, Alan Griffiths; Killian Burke (0-1f), Kevin Reid (0-2, 1f), Darren Moore (0-1); Alan O’Leary, Henry Vaughan (0-1); Tony Clarke, Richard Murphy (0-4f), Michael O’Laochdha; Cian Lordan, Martin Duggan, Michael Ivors (1-0). Subs: Chris McAlinden for Moore (23min), Stephen Lohan for Vaughan (39min), Joseph Troy (0-1) for Clarke (46min), Denis O’Regan for Lordan (56min), Eoin Kiely for O’Laochdha (59min).
REFEREE: John Keane (Galway).