Westmeath 0-14 Louth 2-9
Danny O’Connor was Louth’s super sub in this Leinster SFC first round tie as his injury-time goal guided them past Westmeath this afternoon.
Westmeath had this Navan nail-biter within their grasp but missed a hatful of chances and Championship debutant O’Connor denied them at the death.
The St Patrick’s clubman, who was only called into the Louth panel two weeks ago, paid back Peter Fitzpatrick’s confidence in him by finishing a ground shot to the net late on.
Ronan Carroll’s 27th-minute goal had split the sides at the break - 1-6 to 0-7 - with young midfielder John Heslin kicking three of Westmeath’s points.
Heslin helped the midlanders move back in front, however Louth finished strongly to book a date with All-Ireland champions Dublin in a fortnight’s time.
Louth boss Fitzpatrick made one change to the team that hammered Meath in the last round of the league, Dreadnots clubman Liam Shevlin taking over from the injured Dessie Finnegan at full-back.
With Kieran Gavin ruled out with a quad muscle injury, Garrycastle’s John Gaffey started at full-back for Westmeath whose attack included a fit-again Denis Glennon.
Glennon recovered from a back injury to line out at top of the right and his brother David won an early free which Heslin converted for the opening score.
The young midfielder added a second from play as Westmeath quickly settled into their stride, breaking forward in numbers and at pace.
Clarke responded with a left-sided free for Louth and soon shot over from play in response to a Ger Egan effort at the other end.
Louth coughed up another free as Paddy Keenan brought down David Glennon, allowing Heslin to take his haul to 0-3. But that was quickly replied to by Crilly, who linked up well with Derek Maguire.
The first goal chance fell to Louth’s Mark Brennan who missed the target with a low rolled shot, with Jim McEneaney available for a pass.
A poor miss from free-taker Clarke saw Westmeath remain in front, but Fitzpatrick’s side were beginning to win more breaking ball courtesy of the Keenan-Carroll tandem.
As the tempo increased, Westmeath countered impressively only for Neil Gallagher to parry James Dolan’s goal-bound shot and the follow-up was also blocked.
A left-footed point from Carroll brought Louth level in the 17th minute - 0-4 apiece - as Westmeath pushed their wides total to seven with wayward efforts from Heslin and David Glennon.
Ray Finnegan kicked the Wee County ahead but their lead was short-lived as Westmeath countered at pace again and were rewarded with a point from Kieran Martin.
The nip and tuck nature of the game continued as Carroll, having been put through by Brennan, fired a terrific goal past Gary Connaughton to move Louth 1-5 to 0-5 ahead.
Loose marking allowed Daniel McDermott notch an immediate response for Westmeath, although Brennan was guilty of another poor miss in front of the midlanders’ goal.
Louth maintained their two-point buffer as half-time approached, Crilly having a shot knocked over the bar by Connaughton before Paul Sharry replied in injury-time.
Westmeath boss Pat Flanagan was left to rue ten first half wides but his side resumed in good stead, courtesy of a pointed ‘45’ from Sharry.
Heslin’s fourth of the afternoon squared things up at 1-6 to 0-9 and he was back in defence to thwart Keenan in the next phase, as Westmeath maintained a high work-rate.
A confident catch from captain Connaughton led to Westmeath building from the back and a Paul Bannon score moved them ahead again.
Fitzpatrick sprung Andy McDonnell and O’Connor from the bench but Louth looked off the boil with Westmeath’s half-backs the most effective unit on show.
With Heslin also coming to the fore around centre-field, David Glennon pointed off the outside of his boot and Martin fisted through for Dolan to knock over his side’s twelfth point.
Clarke notched a free for Louth’s first point of the second period, 20 minutes in, and the tension spilled over when John Gaffey and Andy McDonnell were yellow carded for an off-the-ball scuffle.
Despite struggling for form, Louth dug in and a third pointed free from Clarke made it 0-12 to 1-8 on the hour mark.
After a lengthy injury stoppage for David Glennon who came off worse in a challenge involving Gerard Hoey, Westmeath reopened that two-point gap thanks to a point from substitute Callum McCormack.
McCormack had moments earlier crashed a rasping shot off the bar. The finish line was in sight for Flanagan’s men but they could not shake off a spirited Louth outfit.
Carroll put a point between them again at 0-13 to 1-9 and Clarke watched Connaughton catch his 45-metre free from close to his crossbar.
In a dramatic conclusion, Heslin took his tally to 0-5 after good approach work from McCormack, Ronan Foley and Gaffey.
But Westmeath were rocked by the concession of that goal from O’Connor, who struck home after Carroll had created the chance for him.
There were eight minutes of injury-time due to Glennon being tended to and stretchered off.
But despite having enough time to draw level, Westmeath lacked the shooting accuracy when it mattered most and Heslin miscued a free from just inside the 45-metre line as Louth got out of jail.
Scorers - Westmeath: J Heslin 0-5 (0-2f), P Sharry 0-2 (0-1 ‘45’), G Egan, D McDermott, K Martin, P Bannon, David Glennon, J Dolan, C McCormack 0-1 each
Louth: R Carroll 1-2, D Clarke 0-4 (0-3f), D O’Connor 1-0, D Crilly 0-2, R Finnegan 0-1
WESTMEATH: Gary Connaughton (capt); Michael Curley, John Gaffey, Kevin Maguire; Doron Harte, Michael Ennis, Daniel McDermott; John Heslin, Paul Bannon; Kieran Martin, Ger Egan, James Dolan; Denis Glennon, David Glennon, Paul Sharry.
Subs used: Callum McCormack for Dolan (51 mins), Ronan Foley for David Glennon (67), Alan Giles for McDermott (70+5).
LOUTH: Neil Gallagher; Padraig Rath, Liam Shevlin, Gerard Hoey; Ray Finnegan, Jamie Carr, Declan Byrne; Paddy Keenan (capt), Ronan Carroll; Derek Crilly, Mark Brennan, Adrian Reid; Derek Maguire, Jim McEneaney, Darren Clarke.
Subs used: Andy McDonnell for Maguire (44 mins), Danny O’Connor for Brennan (49), Ronan Greene for Shevlin (53), Conor Rafferty for Byrne (58), JP Rooney for Crilly (67).
Referee: Martin Higgins (Fermanagh)