The game won’t be remembered for the purity of hurling but for honest effort it couldn’t be faulted. Seven times two evenly-matched sides were level, until the Leinster side finished with those two late points to take the spoils.
While Westmeath were marginally the better side, Down were very disappointed at the failure of the referee to play the full 35 minutes plus injury time in the first half. He only played 33 minutes 40 seconds in that opening half, but to be fair Westmeath were well on top coming up to the break and finished with three points in a row.
The game turned out to be a personal triumph for Westmeath’s Andrew Mitchell, whose accuracy saw him score nine points from frees. Down’s Martin Coulter hit seven points, also from placed balls.
Apart from Mitchell’s contribution, the winners had excellent players in goalkeeper Mark Briody, Enda Loughlin, John Shaw and Killian Cosgrove.
Down did enough to win but were very careless when it came to defending, preferring to concede the free in order to prevent the score and Mitchell punished them every time.
It was no fault of Gareth Johnson, who had a great match at full forward for the Mourne County, and he was ably assisted by Brendan McGourty, Martin Coulter, and Simon Wilson.
The teams matched each other point for point until the 25th minute, when Westmeath put some daylight between the sides with three points in a row to lead 0-12 to 0-9 at the break.
Seconds into the second half the Leinster side were denied a goal by a great save by Down ‘keeper Graham Clarke, who denied Cosgrove.
It was a huge let-off for Down, and hurling with far more purpose, they rattled over three points in a row to tie the game for the fourth time after 40 minutes.
However Westmeath weren’t prepared to let this coveted title slip and they grabbed a 50th-minute goal which proved to be the crucial score.
Brian Kennedy had a snap-shot parried by Clarke and John Shaw was on hand to drive home the rebound.
Down threw the issue wide open with a second goal from Stephen Clarke and Martin Coulter’s seventh point from a free looked to have earned his side a reprieve.
There was still life left in Westmeath however, and points by Loughlin and Cosgrove secured them the title.
Scorers for Westmeath: A Mitchell 0-9 (frees); J Shaw 1-2; E Loughlin 0-4; K Cosgrove 0-3; B Kennedy, B Murtagh 0-2 each; R Whelan 0-1.
Down: M Coulter 0-7 (frees); J Johnson 1-3; S Clarke 1-1; B McGourty 0-3; A Savage, G Adair, E Clarke, S Wilson 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH: M Briooidy; M Williams, C Murtagh, C Jordan; Brendan Murtagh, D McCormack, B Connaghton; R Whelan, E Loughlin; G Gavin, J Shaw, A Mitchell; B Kennedy, K Cosgrove, J Clarke. Subs: D Curley for Connaghton; P Greville for Williams.
DOWN: Graham Clarke; L Clarke, S Murray, C Coulter; Gabriel Clarke, G Savage, S Wilson; G Adair, A Savage; E Clarke, P Baniff, B McGourty; M Coulter, G Johnson, S Clarke.
Referee: D Richardson (Limerick).