It wasn’t as if this was a shambles of a match, more a case of a host of circumstances conspiring to ensure nobody left a cold Cusack Park in Mullingar on Saturday night satisfied with what had gone on.
Louth, certainly, were far from satisfied. They had already defeated Westmeath in this year’s championship but were then shredded by Dublin, a defeat which prompted a wave of emigration of Wild Geese proportions.
A series of injuries, the unavailability of the unfortunate Fitzpatrick and a lingering sense of injustice from that Leinster final debacle of two years ago, all seemed to combine to undermine the Louth challenge.
They may have managed without some of the emigrants but the loss through injury beforehand of midfielders Paddy Keenan and Ronan Carroll took its toll.
At the same time any sympathy for Louth must be countered with their cynical approach to John Heslin, the 19-year old Westmeath midfielder who turned his back on Aussie Rules to come home and face this stuff.
The St Loman’s player, Man of the Match when Westmeath should have beaten Louth a few weeks ago, was targeted from the outset, especially off the ball. Inevitably, he found himself tangled up in it all, picked up a yellow card and got a second towards the end.
Westmeath manager Pat Flanagan was angry about the treatment dished out to his young star.
“It’s difficult to be on the sideline looking at somebody of his calibre getting the treatment that he’s getting. It’s very difficult.
“To be fair to the linesman and the referee, they did make sure to the best of their abilities, they looked after it but if that sort of thing is going to carry on in football, we might as well forget about it,” said Flanagan.
The Westmeath boss had no complaints about the decision to dismiss the teenager, but rather the background which provoked the reaction.
“It was for two bad tackles. But if there’s someone kicking you and pulling your jersey and standing on you it’s very, very difficult to take that at 19 years of age. But he has learned. He’s improved an awful lot from last year and he’s grown up an awful lot since he came back from Australia.
“It would have been very, very, easy for him to strike out there but he didn’t do it. He just kept going,” added Flanagan.
The dismissal of Louth skipper Mark Brennan, for an off the ball challenge on Heslin after 26 minutes, and then free-taker Darren Clarke just before the break, both of which involved the linesmen bringing matters to the attention of referee Derek Fahy, meant it was always set to be a strange game.
Clarke’s dismissal may have been harsh but his efforts to lift Doran Harte off the ground after whatever went on off the ball didn’t do him any favours. Clarke landed two early frees and Aaron Hoey kicked a good effort from play to edge Louth in front after 14 minutes with the strong wind at their backs. But the increasing influence of Heslin around the middle of the field helped Westmeath settle.
Ger Egan was also very effective aside from kicking two good points and Westmeath finished the half well to reduce the margin to 0-7 to 0-5.
Westmeath, despite playing their two extra men too deep, landed four in succession after the restart, with Callum McCormack adding great pace to the attack after his introduction.
Yet they failed to kill off the Louth challenge despite Egan’s third point putting them 0-11 to 0-8 after 50 minutes.
Louth worked extremely hard despite the numerical disadvantage and were rewarded, with points from Derek Crilly, Ray Finnegan and Jim McEneaney drawing them level after 61 minutes.
But a nervous Westmeath, who lost their last five games against Louth, had their blushes spared when Egan found Denis Glennon with a great pass and he set up McCormack for the deciding goal six minutes from time.
After that Louth’s pain threshold was further tested as Westmeath fired over four points for a rather flattering margin.
Scorers for Westmeath: C McCormack 1-3; G Egan 0-4; J Heslin 0-4 (4fs); Denis Glennon 0-3 (1f); J Dolan 0-1.
Scorers for Louth: D Clarke 0-4 (4fs); J McEneaney 0-3 (3f); D Crilly 0-1; R Finnegan 0-1; D Byrne 0-1; A Hoey 0-1; JP Rooney 0-1.
Subs for Westmeath: C McCormack for McDermott, 35; D Corroon for Ennis, 48.
Subs for Louth: J Carr for A Hoey, 35; D Collier for G Hoey, 53; R Moore for Rooney, 56; D O’Connor for Fanning, 67.
Referee: Derek Fahy (Longford).