Ryan Burns is preparing for his Leaving Cert in a few weeks but on an evening when both sides were burdened with expressing themselves, the youngster from the Hunterstown Rovers club came on as a sub, got one chance and buried it.
Neither side had won a league game but Louth will now head to a Croke Park date with Kildare with a small spring in their step after finally winning a game, but another painful post-mortem is under way in Westmeath, who have now lost all 11 competitive games this year under Paul Bealin.
They could, and should, have won this Leinster SFC encounter. They led 0-3 to 0-0 against the wind before Louth finally got their first score. They were level five minutes from the break but then conceded three and trailed by 0-8 to 0-5 at the interval.
Westmeath used wind advantage well after the restart and a smashing goal from Kieran Martin after 48 minutes, followed by a point from James Dolan pushed them 1-8 to 0-9 in front.
Paddy Keenan did most to keep Louth in the game and he went forward to land two good points either side of a Dessie Dolan effort, but then Burns struck, the ball breaking kindly and he raced through to fire home from close range and put Louth into a lead they never lost.
“The ball fell in the right place and luckily enough I found the back of the net. Conor [Grimes] was the other side of me and I was half thinking of giving it to him but the man stayed off so I took a pop,” said the 17-year old who added that manager Aidan O’Rourke had told just to go out and give it a go.
“He said to keep it simple and that I’ll find myself in the right place and luckily we came out of the right side of the result.”
He has played minor and U21 this year and the next day out falls at the same time as the Leaving Cert.
“It’s maths paper two the next morning so we’ll have to see what happens,” said the teenager.
But the manager said: “We’ll be doing very little with Ryan over the next three weeks because the exams are his priority. We haven’t thought about Kildare at all – that’ll be another day’s work, but I’m sure he’ll be in our plans in some shape or form.”
O’Rourke praised his men for the way they carved out the victory and he reckons they can garner a lot of self-belief from it.
“A difficulty all year for us has been responding to big scores. It’s something we talked long and hard about for the last couple of weeks. It’s something we prepared pretty well for and you have to credit the fellas – they showed great mental strength. The goal didn’t faze them at all, they just chipped away and got back in the game,” added O’Rourke.
Eleven first-half wides threaten to derail their challenge but Westmeath kicked eight when they had the wind after the break and they didn’t score after the 51st minute.
“At the moment we’re all devastated, but we have to lift ourselves it’s as simple as that. We’ll readdress, we’ll sit down and talk about it and hopefully try and get some run in the qualifiers,” said manager Bealin who admitted that the run of defeats is difficult to stomach.
“It is a terrible statistic to have. I knew Division 1 of the league would have been difficult but I felt we would have potentially been able to win that game out there but it didn’t happen today and we didn’t show leadership,” said the former Dublin star.
Scorers for Westmeath: K Martin (1-1), J Heslin (0-3, 2fs), G Egan (0-2), J Dolan, D Glennon and Dessie Dolan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Louth: D Maguire (0-5), R Burns (1-0), D Byrne (2fs), P Keenan (0-3 each), A McDonnell (0-2), S Lennon (0-1 each).
Westmeath: D Quinn; Damian Dolan, K Maguire, K Gavin; R Foley, P Sharry, J Dolan; D Duffy, R Connellan; K Martin, C McCormack, G Egan; D Glennon, J Heslin, Dessie Dolan. Subs for Westmeath: D McCormack for Connellan (29), D Harte for Damien Dolan (61), A Giles for McCormack (64), J Gonud for Foley (68) LOUTH: N Gallagher; P Rath, D Finnegan, G O Hare; D Crilly, J O’Brien, A Reid; P Keenan, M Fanning; D Maguire, B White, A McDonnell; S Lennon, C Grimes, D Byrne. Subs for Louth: R Burns for Lennon (57), B Donnelly for Fanning (57), J Stewart for White (62), P Reilly for Reid (67).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).
It could have gone either way until the ball broke for teenage sub Ryan Burns. His goal 11 minutes from time turned it in favour of Louth.
Is Paul Bealin’s first season with Westmeath going to be a complete whitewash? Many in the county felt Pat Flanagan was harshly treated. Three O’Byrne Cup defeats, seven straight losses in the league and now a home championship defeat. Westmeath’s season will end unless they get a favourable draw in the qualifiers.
Derek Maguire kicked 0-5 from play and could have bagged a couple of goals, but Paddy Keenan’s influence grew more and more as the game progressed and the captain crowned a fine display with three excellent points in the second-half.
Maurice Deegan had the honour of dishing out the first black card in championship football, ironically to a man called White, but Louth were well on their way when Brian White was penalised for a tackle on Paul Sharry.
Louth came out for the warm-up with all the players wearing their club jerseys in an unique way of showing where these guys had come from. Straight away their cliques were noticeable as lads grouped with their own clubmates.
Louth struggled in the opening half when they pulled too many men behind the ball and tried to work it upfield, but Aidan O’Rourke’s men prospered when they went long.
It went from bad to worse for Paul Bealin’s side and they could not bring their key men such as John Heslin and Dessie Dolan into the game when they needed them.
Bringing on a defender when they were four points down in the closing stages was greeted with derision by sections of the home crowd.
It was a far from flawless performance and one or two disputed calls could have resulted in significant scores at the other end, but Maurice Deegan was consistent in most of his adjudicating.
Louth head to Croke Park for a June8 date with Kildare while Westmeath pray for a decent draw in the qualifiers.