Cork made it three wins from three in Division 1 Group A of the Allianz Hurling League as Westmeath were seen off at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday afternoon.
First-half goals from Shanes Kingston and Barrett give the home side a cushion and they led by seven points at half-time but Westmeath deserve credit for their endeavour and, with 17 minutes left, they were within five points. They weren’t allowed to come closer than that, though, and the result means a third straight loss for them. Victory for Cork means that one more win from their remaining two games, at home to Wexford next week and away to Clare on March 19, will almost certainly ensure a place in the league semi-finals.
The game’s opening score was Cork’s first goal, which arrived in the third minute. Tommy O’Connell – a late replacement for his clubmate, the injured Seán O’Leary Hayes – did well to pick out Shane Kingston in space and he finished well.
While Davy Glennon did reply with Westmeath’s opening point, Cork reeled off six in seven minutes after that, twice turning over the visitors after short puck-outs as St Finbarr’s trio Brian Hayes, Ben Cunningham and Conor Cahalane all got on the scoresheet.
Despite the attacking pressure exerted by Cork - wearing special jerseys that featured the logo of Cork ARC Cancer Support House - Westmeath continued to build from the back and began to get more joy, with full-back Tommy Doyle doing well while Killian Doyle was impressive from dead balls – he would end the half with eight of their 10 points.
Even so, Cork never allowed the gap to drop lower than six points in the opening and remained in control, with Dáire O’Leary showing up strongly at wing-back on his return to a red jersey after almost a year while stand-in captain Niall O’Leary impressed, too.
Doyle’s fourth point left it 1-9 to 0-6 after 25 minutes but Cork’s response was their second goal as Ethan Twomey made a good interception before feeding Hayes and his pass found Shane Barrett in splendid isolation, allowing him to drill a shot past Noel Conaty. The Westmeath goalkeeper had earlier denied Kingston and would also prevent Barrett from raising another green flag before the half. By that stage, it was 2-11 to 0-10 for Cork, Doyle having scored three of the last four points for Westmeath.
The scoring rate dropped after half-time and Cork only added three points in the opening 15 minutes while Doyle brought his personal tally to 13 with five more converted frees.
After Conor Cahalane made it 2-15 to 0-15 with his third point, Cork had a great chance for another goal as Twomey’s lovely pass picked out sub Pádraig Power but his scuffed shot was saved by Conaty.
An excellent pointed sideline cut by Westmeath wing-back Jack Galvin brought them back to five but even so, a goal looked likely if an upset was to materialise – especially after Doyle departed injured – and Cork didn’t look like conceding one.
There weren’t many opportunities for green flags at the other end in the closing stages, either, but nevertheless Cork had the points in hand as the game chugged towards its end.
S Kingston 1-7 (0-6f), S Barrett 1-2, C Cahalane 0-3, B Hayes, P Power 0-2 each, C O’Brien, E Twomey, C Cormack, T O’Connell, B Cunningham 0-1 each.
K Doyle 0-13 (0-11 f), J Galvin (0-1 sl) 0-2, C Doyle 0-2 f, D Glennon, S McGovern, D Clinton (f), R Greville 0-1 each.
P Collins; E Roche, N O’Leary, G Millerick; C O’Brien, T O’Connell, D O’Leary; S Quirke, E Twomey; B Cunningham, L Meade, C Cahalane; S Kingston, B Hayes, S Barrett.
E Downey for Millerick (half-time), C Cormack for D O’Leary (45), P Power for Cunningham (49), D Connery for Quirke (61), C Walsh for Barrett (67).
N Conaty; D Egerton, T Doyle, C Shaw; J Bermingham, R Greville, J Galvin; S McGovern, S Clavin; O McCabe, D Glennon, K Regan; J Boyle, K Doyle, P Clarke.
E Keyes for Clarke (46), D Clinton for Clavin (56), A Ennis for Shaw (61), C Doyle for K Doyle (61, injured), G Greville for Bermingham (70).
M Kennedy (Tipperary).