Two late goals did little more than bring a degree of respectability to the scoreboard on a day when Westmeath minor footballers had to play second fiddle to a physically imposing and talented Kildare side. The Lilywhites held the upper hand in most sectors throughout and could afford the luxury of kicking seventeen wides en route to a comfortable win.
While it was disappointing for Tom Carr’s side to be beaten so comprehensively, it is at least a step in the right direction that they reached the provincial decider for the first time in 13 years. It was certainly a steep learning curve for them but they do have the prospect of an All-Ireland quarter-final meeting with the winners of Mayo and Roscommon to look forward to in early August.
Westmeath opened the scoring through Luke Loughlin but once Chris Healy got the Kildare youngsters up and running their superiority soon began to show on the scoreboard. Kildare’s corner-forwards Wayne Fitzpatrick and Chris Healy proved a handful throughout and finished with 1-9 between them.
Trailing 0-8 to 0-3 at the break there was still hope that the underdogs could turn things around and this belief was strengthened when they found themselves just three points adrift after 38 minutes.
The decisive moment came in the 39th minute when Mark Sherry goaled for the young Lillies to open up a six-point lead from which they never looked back. They went on to open up a 14-point lead (2-14 to 0-6 ) and Westmeath were reduced to 14 with the dismissal of Darragh Clinton on a second yellow card.
To their credit Carr’s side kept battling to the end and their efforts were deservedly rewarded with a Luke Loughlin goal from the penalty spot and an Andrew McCormack injury time major.
Playing on the big stage in Croke Park on such a big occasion can only benefit these youngsters despite the result and offers hope for next year with another good minor team in the making.
On this evidence it is going to take a fair team to stop this Kildare side from lifting the Tom Markham Cup for the first time ever. For their part Westmeath should be targeting a semi-final berth but they will need a more rounded performance if they are to achieve this.