There followed defeats to Sligo and Clare, either side of a frustrating 0-11 to 1-8 stalemate with Tipperary.
Four rounds in and instead of looking up towards Division 2, Cribbin’s side, who had plied their trade in the top tier just two seasons ago, were looking at Division 4.
Saturday’s contest brought together the division’s two basement counties, both managers accepting relegation was all but inevitable for the losers. The gravity of the situation registered far more with the visitors and Westmeath were out of sight by the 27th minute; 3-5 to 0-2 they led.
Their long journey towards survival, which will probably still require victories against Longford and Offaly over the closing two weekends, began with a gift-wrapped goal on 17 minutes as a mistake in the Limerick defence allowed Callum McCormack put through James Dolan. That put Westmeath 1-4 to 0-1 ahead and their impressive start was accentuated by Dolan’s second goal on 20 minutes after Heslin the architect on this occasion. The Limerick defence, so organised and cohesive in frustrating the Kildare attack six days previous, were guilty of committing the most basic handling errors and were hit for a third when an interchange between McCormack and Heslin finished with the latter palming the ball home.
The Limerick ‘keeper produced a superb save to tip over the bar a McCormack drive approaching the break and, truth be told, John Brudair’s outfit were fortunate to be only 11 points in arrears at the break (3-7 to 0-5). Limerick failed to kick a single score from play until Tom Lee splits the posts 28 minutes in. The second-half ran from a pretty similar script as the first, Westmeath easing to their first win.
“All along, we were bubbling at training and everyone was questioning why it wasn’t happening on match-day. We just couldn’t put our finger on it,” said Cribbin. “We knew it was something small because they have the intensity and they showed it against the two teams who are probably going to get promotion, Kildare and Tipperary. They played well and better late than never, I suppose. I am delighted. The game was critical because if we lost and Limerick beat Sligo next week then they are on five points and even if we were to win our last two games, they’d put us down by virtue of head-to-head. Losing today wasn’t an option.”
He added: “I am happier with the performance, for the lads’ sake. I knew they were working so hard. You just feel so bad for them when it is not coming out on the pitch when they are working so hard.”
J Heslin (1-5, 0-4 frees); J Dolan (2-0); C McCormack (0-5); S Dempsey, K Martin (0-2 each).
S McSweeney (0-3, 0-3 frees); P Nash (0-2, 0-1 free); I Corbett, T Lee (0-1 each).
D Quinn; K Daly, F Boyle, K Maguire; D Lynch, P Holloway, J Dolan; D Corroon, D Daly; K Martin, J Heslin, R Connellan; J Connellan, C McCormack, S Dempsey.
R Foley for J Connellan (23 mins, inj), P Greville for Martin, J Egan for Foley (both 59), S Daly for R Connellan (60), A Stone for Boyle (62), J Donohue for Lynch (65).
D O’Sullivan; S Flanagan, S O’Dea, J McCarthy; P White, P Browne, I Corbett; T Lee, D Tracey; S Buckley, C Sheehan, P Ranahan; I Ryan, D Neville, S McSweeney.
K Ryan for Buckley (6 mins, inj), S Cahill for White (32), P Nash for Ranahan (HT), K Fahy for Flanagan (HT), J Lee for Ryan (54) S Kelly for McSweeney (56, bc).
J Hickey (Carlow).