The returning influence of Ray Connellan to county colours was very much to the fore in TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar, on Sunday afternoon, as Westmeath senior footballers commenced their Allianz National League Division 2 campaign with a hard earned, but merited one point victory against Clare.
The Athlone clubman was named in the starting line-up as a late replacement for Darren Giles (Coralstown/Kinnegad ) and made a notable contribution to proceedings, scoring two points from play, while his penetrating and powerful surging offensive runs into the heart of the Clare defence caused innumerable problems for the visiting team.
Having tasted defeat to the same opposition in round three of the All-Ireland qualifers last summer, the result was a modicum of revenge for that minimum reverse as Westmeath ensured a winning start to their league sojourn.
Leading by two points at half time (1-5 to 1-3 ), Westmeath stretched their scoring advantage to five points midway through the second moiety as a home win seemed most likely but Clare rallied effecting the scoreboard with a white flag blitz ensuring the teams were level as injury time approached.
However, persistence from the Lake County was rewarded deep into added time when talisman, John Heslin, kicked the winning point from a placed ball, rewarding those supporters who had turned out in aspirational support of the county’s senior footballers on the opening day of their league odyssey.
In what will be a highly competitive set of round robin fixtures, home victories will prove key if Westmeath are to retain divisional status and build momentum prior to that premier Leinster senior football championship encounter with the six in a row seeking Metropolitans on May 23.
A positive start now attained, management, players and supporters unified thoughts now turn towards the journey north to Kingspan Breffni Park when Cavan, who suffered a heavy loss to Armagh in their opening league fixture, provide the opposition, with a Saturday night throw-in at 7pm.
Should success be achieved, a four point start would be the ultimate fillip to a league campaign which might just yet bear promotion shoots.