Down’s goals prove crucial as the brave Maroons fade

The Westmeath minor football team before the Tier 3 All Ireland final against Down at Kingspan Breffni Park.

Loses 4:13 against Westmeath 1:18

With a total of 36 points, both Partisans and Neutrals were involved in a thrilling All-Ireland third-tier MFC final at Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan last Saturday evening, and Down had a knack for finding the back of the net, including a decisive late penalty, a key factor in resolving this case.

After a provincial campaign that ended earlier than they would have liked, Eoghan Kevlihan’s Westmeath men were hungry for silverware but unfortunately fell short against Down’s powerful and astute vanguard.

Westmeath controlled the match until the final quarter, with incredible striker James McHugh scoring some excellent goals to finish the game 0-11.

At half-time Lake County led 0-12 to 2-5 and despite conceding the third goal, they were four points ahead in the 45th minute after William Scahill raised the green flag at the right moment.

Westmeath began to tire in the final 15 minutes, however, when Down – boosted by some clever substitutions – defeated them 1-7 to 0-2, including a penalty, to lift the Seamus Heaney Cup.

Both teams were playing in away kits and Westmeath opened the scoring in the third minute thanks to a cross from McHugh, but after a Barra counter-attack, McEvoy teed up Paul McGovern after selling a dummy to become a marker. McGovern was interfered with, allowing McEvoy to equalize with a free-kick.

Liam Blaney put Down ahead a minute later with another dead-ball shot after McEvoy had been fouled, but from then on Westmeath settled down and kicked six points in a row, all but one of which were scored by McHugh.

The Garrycastle man equalized with a free-kick before club-mate Andrew Henson made it 0-3 to 0-2 after some clever play from Westmeath saw his shot on target tipped over the crossbar by Down goalkeeper Callum Travers.

McHugh then settled into the match with precision, converting three further free kicks and scoring a beautiful curling shot to put Westmeath ahead 0-7 to 0-2 despite playing into the wind.

However, in the 16th minute, Down made their first successful run in ten minutes when Liam Blaney headed Paul McGovern towards goal. After his first shot was saved by Westmeath’s Adam Buckley, McGovern took the rebound and shot into the corner of the net.

To their credit, Westmeath did not dwell on this defeat and responded with three points in the run, with Daire O’Brien scoring a fine score with a well-worked move, before McHugh added a pair of free-kicks to take his tally to eight points.

Most importantly for Down, they had the best run in the remaining minutes of the half, with captain Barra McEvoy being the catalyst. He scored a fine goal down the left wing, and after another fierce counter-attack, Blaney and McEvoy were instrumental in securing a point for McGovern, who could have scored.

Daire O’Brien kept Westmeath in the action with a left free kick from a tight angle, but Down continued to create chances at the other end.

There was drama in the 25th minute when McGovern’s low shot was blocked on the shin of Westmeath’s Cian Whitney, and a minute later Blaney fired a brilliant long-range shot straight out of his hands from the terrace.

Darragh Lough replied for Westmeath, showing great ability to break through the Down defense and score brilliantly. However, Down won the next toss and Westmeath were badly caught in the back.

McGovern and McEvoy were involved again, with the latter diving towards goal and faking a pass before firing low into the Westmeath net, leaving the Mournemen trailing at half-time.

After the restart, Down scored a couple of goals before Lake County resumed normal play with fine goals from McHugh (field) and Daire O’Brien. Substitute Adam McCann-Gibbs then split the posts with a shot down the middle from the front line.

At the other end, Westmeath’s Ty Masterson broke alone through the Downs’ defense and was tackled, but before the whistle blew, Andrew Henson had scored his second point of the match to leave Westmeath three ahead (0-15 to 2-6).

In the 42nd minute, the Ulstermen rewarded their earlier profligacy by scoring their third goal.

Once again Westmeath’s defensive weaknesses were ruthlessly exposed and Daniel Carr moved in behind the full-back line before hitting the target twice – both brilliantly saved by Adam Buckley. Unfortunately for Westmeath, Barra McEvoy was on hand and scored at the third try.

Once again, Westmeath was not surprised and responded in perfect fashion. William Scahill and Cormac McKeogh worked hard to dispossess Down’s Liam Blaney before Scahill cleared the ball and sent a low shot into the Down net. Moments later, Andrew Henson outwitted a would-be marker on the left wing to score the third point, with Westmeath again four ahead.

From that point on, things started going wrong for the Maroons. James O’Hanlon, Barra McEvoy (0-2) and Paul McGovern (45) found their range to level things up for Down in the 52nd minute, soon after another free from James McHugh put Westmeath ahead.

However, there was a fatal setback three minutes later when, after a quick move, McGovern was tackled to the ground and Down were awarded a penalty, which the winger converted with a low shot.

Down were now in excellent form and with the clock winding down, two well-placed passes from Darragh Poland, both capped by good play in the run-in, gave the North team a four-point lead.

James McHugh, still struggling away for Lake County, scored his 11th point with a stunning curling shot in the 60th minute, but Westmeath badly needed a goal.

Down were on a roll, however, and added time without McGovern gave the Mournemen a clear result.

Full-time James McHugh – unhappy to be on the losing side – deservedly received the Electric Ireland man of the match award, but the bragging rights went to Down and captain Barra McEvoy, who received the Seamus Heaney Cup from Ulster GAA vice-president Michael Geoghegan.

Shooters – defeat: B McEvoy 2-4 (0-1f), P McGovern 2-3 (1-0 penalties, 0-1f, 0-1 ’45’), L Blaney (free) and D Poland 0-2 each, A McCann- Gibbs and J. O’Hanlon are both 0-1. Westmeath: J McHugh 0-11 (8f), D O’Brien 0-3 (1f), A Henson 0-3, W Scahill 1-0, D Lough 0-1.

Down: Callum Travers; Shane McParland, Oisín Murphy, Aaron McClelland; Cormac Small, Jon Rodgers, Lorcan Lynch; Dan McKernan, Liam Blaney; Conor Ward, Darragh Poland, Paul McGovern; Daniel Carr, Barra McEvoy (captain), Charlie McGrath. Subs used: Adam McCann-Gibbs as McParland (29), James O’Hanlon as McKernan (42), Lorcan Murray as McGrath (42), Eoghan Convie as Rodgers (50), Eoin McCaffrey as Murphy (inj, 53).

Westmeath: Adam Buckley; Ben Sheerin, Cian Whitney (captain), Daire Burke; Ty Masterson, Adam Smyth, Jack Carroll; Mikey Weir, Daire O’Brien; Andrew Henson, Darragh Lough, Cormac McKeogh; James McHugh, Ryan Flynn and William Scahill. Subs used: Michael Moloney for Masterson (49), Paul Keating for McKeogh (53), Rory O’Brien for Flynn (59).

Ref. no.: Diarmuid Boylan (Monaghan).