A storming second half performance in which they outscored Derry 1-12 to 0-2 was enough to see Westmeath comfortably maintain their division two status at the end of a topsy turvy league campaign. It was a sweet victory for Pat Flanagan and his men who were written off by many before a ball was even kicked as certs for relegation.
It took Westmeath 12 minutes to register their opening score as Derry looked the better side in the opening exchanges. The Oak Leaf County were 0-8 to 0-1 to the good with half time approaching but late points from Heslin and Kieran Martin cut the deficit to five points.
Remarkably the home side, aided by a strong wind, dominated the second half and ran out comfortable winners. The dismissal of Derry centre-back Dermot McBride in the 40th minute certainly didn’t help their cause but by that stage Flanagan’s men had the bit firmly between their teeth.
Paul Sharry was in terrific form in his new-found role at centre-back while club-mate John Heslin was hugely impressive at midfield. Dennis Glennon, who put Westmeath in front for the first time on fifty four minutes, also impressed throughout while James Dolan marked his return to the panel with the only goal of the game, after being introduced in the final quarter.
They end the campaign on six points after wins over Galway, Monaghan, and Derry and finish with Derry, Meath and Monaghan sitting below them in the league table. Meath and Monaghan are relegated to division three.
Despite shipping heavy defeats to Meath, Tyrone, and Kildare, overall this has been a very fruitful campaign. The absence of the Garrycastle contingent, as well as many regulars from last season for a variety of reasons, left Pat Flanagan with little option but to blood many new and relatively inexperienced players during the league. The likes of Caulry duo Ben Moran and Kevin McGuire and Maryland’s Callum McCormack have gained valuable experience and have shown they have plenty to offer in the coming years.
This win is hugely significant in terms of the development of Pat Flanagan’s side. Playing in division two again next year is a lot more appealing and indeed beneficial than playing in division three.
Looking back on the league the two big turning points were John Heslin’s decision to return from Australia and Paul Bannon’s winning injury-time point against Galway. Heslin has been immense since his return and all Lake County Gaels will be hoping he can carry that good form through to championship. Bannon’s last-gasp score gave Westmeath an unlikely win and a valuable two points. It offered a glimmer of hope to which the team and panel responded.
Avoiding relegation is a huge confidence boost ahead of the upcoming championship opener against Louth in Navan on May 20. Flanagan has plenty to work on between now and then but after Sunday’s win the mood inside and outside the camp will undoubtedly be a lot more optimistic.