Level with Derry after 70 minutes of an absorbing encounter, they appeared as likely as the Ulster outfit to go on and snatch victory, perhaps in extra-time given the close nature of the contest.
Four minutes later, however, we were left to consider a six-point Derry victory that sets them up just nicely for a crack at Down in the Ulster championship.
Eoin Bradley, after a bright start, was called ashore and replaced by Emmet McGuckin. The Magherafelt man had just 12 minutes to make his mark but pulled a rabbit from the hat with 1-1 in injury-time.
Teenage midfielder Ryan Bell and the excellent James Kielt hit points in the additional minutes too, bringing Derry’s scoring spree to 1-3 without reply in just three minutes. But it was McGuckin’s scores that secured the win and put the cherry of a Division 2 title success on top of an already sweet promotion.
The points from Bell and Kielt had put Derry two up when Ciarán McFaul lofted a high ball into the Westmeath goal mouth.
Goalkeeper Gary Connaughton should have cleared his lines but in an aerial one to one with McGuckin, the Derry man got just enough on the ball to edge it over the goal line.
Not content with sealing victory, McGuckin did his damndest to nail down a spot for their championship clash with Down by hoisting over a point moments later, Westmeath’s title hopes officially KO’d.
Derry deserved to win, just not by six points. It was a cracking contest, save for a lull in the third quarter when Raymond Wilkinson was carried off with a worrying knee injury.
Derry initially looked like they might secure their first piece of silverware since the 2008 Division 1 title a little easier. They led 0-4 to 0-0 with 10 minutes on the clock. But, just like the pattern of the Division 3 and 4 finals the previous evening, the slow starters recovered to level terms.
Westmeath’s fighting spirit set in train a tit-for-tat encounter that will serve both sides well approaching their championship openers.
Westmeath lost but there were lots of positives. One of the more intriguing was Kevin Maguire’s role at corner-back. In real trouble early on against Eoin Bradley — who hit four points in the first 17 minutes — he recovered well and Bradley was eventually taken off.
At times, John Heslin was magnificent, mostly in the first-half, while Ger Egan punched lots of holes in Derry’s rear guard from wing-forward.
The role of ex-All Star Dessie Dolan this season will be interesting too. Pat Flanagan appears to favour him as an impact sub but he scored three points after he came on, doing more than anyone else to keep in touch with Derry.
Overall, the scores came a little easier to Derry. A dozen different Oak Leaf players made the score sheet and they also had enough possession to boot 13 wides.
They are on the trickier side of the Ulster championship draw which begins against Down on June 2. But they have a shrewd boss in McIver who has breathed the thin air at the top of the championship mountain as Down coach in 2010.
The former Donegal boss has some in-form players too, particularly James Kielt who did enough for the man of the match award. The centre-forward kicked the last two scores of the first-half to leave the sides level on 0-10 to 0-10.
He buzzed with industry throughout the second-half and took a lead role in affairs late on, setting up a score for McFaul and pointing his third himself.
Derry played second fiddle to Heslin in the first-half but Patsy Bradley and Bell came good at midfield in the second-half. They were secure at the back also with Sean Leo McGoldrick their best performer at wing-back.
Aidan McAlynn had been enjoying a good game until Dolan’s arrival which resulted in the concession of three points. The Dublin players looked on at the game as they expect to play Westmeath in the quarter-finals of the Leinster SFC.
Westmeath must overcome Carlow first but they showed enough to suggest they will do so comfortably, Denis Glennon highlighting their quality with two excellent points.
Scorers for Derry: E McGuckin 1-1, E Bradley 0-4 (2fs), J Kielt 0-3, R Bell 0-2 (1f), SL McGoldrick, E Lynn, R Wilkinson, D Heavron, B Heron (0-1 45), G O’Kane, Patsy Bradley, C McFaul 0-1.
Scorers for Westmeath: J Heslin 0-5 (4fs), Dessie Dolan 0-3, G Egan, C McCormack, Denis Glennon 0-2, C Curley 0-1.
Subs for Derry: C Devlin for Wilkinson (43), C McFaul for Heavron (58), E McGuckin for Bradley (58), L Kennedy for Heron (74).
Subs for Westmeath: Dessie Dolan for Martin (52), K Gavin for McCallon (67), Damian Dolan for Corroon (69), L Smith for Curley (72).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).