Donegal’s aspirations of an All-Ireland U-21 B Hurling final berth ended in disappointment in the glorious at Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, on Saturday as Andrew Wallace’s charges succumbed to a 12-point defeat.
The Tir Chonaill side gave a spirited performance in this game, with senior players Sean McVeigh and Ciaran Mathewson among those leading the charge. It was two goals inside four minutes at the opening stage of the second half which ultimately proved to be Donegal’s undoing, after an excellent opening half display by Wallace’s charges.
Donegal led by 1-5 to 0-2 after eight minutes, with McVeigh unerring from frees and open play as the St Eunan’s clubman contributed four early points. Donegal’s opening goal came in the sixth minute, after an excellent long distance clearance by half-back Christopher McDermott, before Mathewson pounced and drilled the ball to the net.
A Marty Reilly 0point ensured a six-point lead, but Westmeath responded with points from Barry O’Meara and Kieran Martin to cut the deficit to four points.
McVeigh continued to keep Donegal on top with his dead-ball accuracy, but scores from Niall Dowdall and Cillian Murphy left the score at 1-6 to 0-6 in the 14th minute.
Sean MacCumhaills duo Barney McMenamin and Lee Henderson cancelled out these points, before Westmeath claimed their opening goal from Cormac Boyle after a long ball in from defender Dowdall.
Donegal showed great composure from goalkeeper Paul Burns subsequent puckout as they drilled the ball upfield and although Marty Reilly initially lost possession, he quickly regained it as the ball was in the back of Westmeath’s net for a second time.
A second goal from Matthewson pushed Donegal to a 3-9 to 1-8 lead eight minutes before the break, but Westmeath rallied with six of the last seven points of the half.
This included a trio of Aonghus Clarke scores to cut the deficit to two points at the break on a 3-10 to 1-14 scoreline.
Westmeath’s pressure on Donegal’s defence failed to ease on the restart, with half-time subsitute Thomas Doyle sneaking in for a point 23 seconds after the restart, and then O’Meara and Cillian Murphy pounced for goals.
Sean McVeigh continued to keep Donegal in touch with his free-taking accuracy and long-range points from play, but Westmeath now held a firm grip on this game.
O’Meara brought his tally to 2-5 following a 48th minute score to give Westmeath a 4-18 to 3-12 advantage.
The Midlanders were looking sharp at this stage, with Donegal dealt a huge blow following the dismissal of Dara Grant on a second yellow card.
Wallace’s charges braved their numerical disadvantage to hit a trio of points in succession including a McVeigh brace and a Reilly effort to cut the deficit to six points with over seven minutes remaining, but Westmeath tagged on six points without reply in the closing stages to ensure a 12-point win.
Mathewson, Reilly and McVeigh tried hard in attack for Donegal, while in defence full-back Michael Lillis and goalkeeper Paul Burns were among those who worked hard despite the huge pressure Westmeath placed on them in the second half.
Westmeath: Shane McGovern; Paul Dermody, Alan McGrath, Shane Fagan; Alan Fitzsimons, John Gilligan, Niall Dowdall (0-1); Stephen Boylan (0-3), Aaron Craig; Mickey Heffernan, Cormac Boyle (1-1), Aonghus Clarke (0-5, 3 ‘65); Cillian Murphy (1-2), Kieran Martin (0-3), Barry O’Meara (2-8, 7f). Subs: Thomas Doyle (0-1) for Craig (HT); Cathal Scally for Heffernan (HT); Conor Slator for McGrath (59); Conor Thompson for Fitzsimons (59); Paddy Laide for Shane Fagan (59).
Donegal: Paul Burns; Dara Grant, Michael Lillis, Gareth Quinn; Christopher McDermott, Fintan Culhane, Colm Flood; Ronan McDermott (0-1), Sean McVeigh (0-10, 8f); Marty Reilly (1-2), Ciaran Mathewson (2-0), Kevin Meehan; Barney McMenamin (0-1), Stephen Gillespie, Lee Henderson (0-1). Subs: Gavin Browne for Meehan (47).
Referee: Pat Greene (Galway)