The Lilywhites led 2-6 to 0-8 at the break, with goals from Daniel Flynn and substitute Cian O’Donoghue in the space of six minutes shocking Westmeath when should have been making the most of the strong breeze.
Although they recovered well from Flynn’s wonder goal in the 21st minute, which saw the midfielder solo from within his own half before finding the top left corner of the net, Westmeath were reeling after O’Donoghue had followed a similar path, running from deep and exchanging possession with Niall Kelly, and unleashing a well-placed ball past Darren Quinn.
Kildare added three further points without reply to take a commanding lead, leaving Westmeath to rue an earlier goal chance when Peter Kelly cleared off the line from Callum McCormack.
Westmeath kicked just two points from play in total, the last coming in the 25th minute, but they were never truly out of this game, and they had Kildare’s lead pegged back to three before the excellent Kelly twisted over his third point in injury-time.
Both managers afterwards felt they could have done more when the wind was in the favour, new Kildare boss Cian O’Neill’s delight in picking up a win tempered by how his team failed to kill off the game before the end.
“Coming in at half-time, we were very happy because the conditions were particularly bad.
“They worked very hard. We treated half-time as if it was a new game because we knew they were going to come at us with everything, which is what we would have done if we were in the same position.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t as effective in the second half, when we had the conditions with us, and that’s a huge learning.”
Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin admitted his team were in a bit of a dilemma, having won the toss. “Whatever it is, we always seem to be sluggish at the start. We always play far better in the second half. We’re trying to address that, to make sure. We didn’t know whether to play with or against the breeze in the first half but we do know that we play well against the breeze. We’re good at carrying the ball.”
Apart from Kelly, Daniel Flynn was Kildare’s best performer, having been introduced as a late addition to the starting team by O’Neill.
“He’s transitioned nicely back into the set-up having been in Australia and having had a serious injury last year, so we’re very happy with him,” O’Neill said.
J Heslin (0-6, frees); K Martin (0-3, frees); G Egan, C McCormack (0-1 each).
A Tyrell (frees), N Kelly (0-3 each); Daniel Flynn, C O’Donoghue (1-0 each); C McNally (0-2); P Cribbin (0-1).
D Quinn; D Lynch, K Maguire, J Gonoud; J Dolan, P Holloway, A Stone; D Corroon, S Flanagan; K Martin, P Sharry, G Egan; J Heslin, C McCormack, S Dempsey.
R Connellan for S Flanagan, J Egan for S Dempsey (both h-t); D Daly for C McCormack (63); K Daly for A Stone (70+1).
M Donnellan; O Lyons, P Kelly, C Fitzpatrick; J Byrne, F Conway, D Hyland; Daryl Flynn, Daniel Flynn; A Tyrell, E O’Flaherty, P Cribbin; N Flynn, N Kelly, C McNally.
C O’Donoghue for C Fitzpatrick (inj 15); É O’Connor for Daryl Flynn (h-t); P O’Neill for A Tyrell (55); E Callaghan for E O’Flaherty (black, 61); M Sherry for N Flynn (65).
N Mooney (Cavan)