Westmeath 0-15 Wicklow 1-11
13-man Westmeath put the travails of a potentially debilitating league campaign behind them as Denis Glennon struck for a dramatic injury time winner in Tullamore to set up a Leinster semi-final with Louth.
The game may never have struck the high notes of last night’s scorefest between Louth and Kildare but it was incident-packed nonetheless, complete with brilliant saves, shots hitting the crossbar, three sendings off and that final, thrilling denouement.
Pat Flanagan’s charges led at the break by 0-5 to 0-4 courtesy of more clinical finishing, magnificent tackling and Gary Connaughton’s agility between the posts.
Wicklow dominated possession, due largely to the brilliance of James Stafford, who faded out of proceedings significantly in the second half.
With Denis Glennon playing as a third midfielder, his direct marker, Ciarán Hyland was more noticeable in open play than normal and his shot early on produced a magnificent full-length stop from Connaughton.
Westmeath carved out a 0-4 to 0-1 lead by the end of the opening quarter, recovering well from conceding an early point to Tony Hannon from a free after a brilliant flick by Kieran Martin to dispossess the Wicklow man was inexplicably deemed a foul by the overly fussy Michael Collins.
The magnificent Martin Flanagan, team captain Michael Ennis and a Paul Greville (two) put the Lakesiders in a strong possession but Stafford continued to hold sway in the air and Wicklow gradually clawed themselves back into it.
Darren Hayden came forward for their only score from play of the half and Hannon recovered from some poor place-kicking to convert two more frees, the second from a full 47 metres to leave just the minimum between the sides.
Man of the match, Conor Lynam started a run of four successive points, after dummying Brian McGrath and arcing over neatly.
Greville, Paul Bannon added points and then Doran Harte slotted.
That score was all about Flanagan, as the Tyrellspass man fetched brilliantly on the edge of the Wicklow square and somehow managed to pick himself off the ground before extricating himself from a slew of defenders to lay off to the wing-back.
Dessie Dolan was introduced to good effect in the 44th minute and with 14 minutes remaining Westmeath had a five point advantage.
Wicklow continued to plug away though and when Hyland slotted with just three minutes left, the gap was down to three.
By that stage, there had been a crazy spell of three dismissals in two minutes, all for second yellow cards. Westmeath’s John Gaffey was first to go in the 60th minute, followed quickly by Leighton Glynn, who had only collected his first yellow seconds beforehand.
Westmeath midfielder David Duffy went marching in the 62nd minute and we awaited the Wicklow onslaught.
It arrived on cue, JP Dalton hitting the upright via Connaughton and Nicky Mernagh palming a pass across the square onto the crossbar.
The goal came on the 70th minute as Stafford’s shot was blocked, Furlong’s shot off the ground stopped by Connaughton and Paul Earls slamming home the rebound from a tight angle.
But there was one last roll of the dice and it came from Glennon, who capitalised on a blocked clearance by Steven Kelly to snatch the winner.
Westmeath: G Connaughton; F Boyle, D O’Donoghue, J Gaffey; M Ennis 0-1, K Martin, D Harte 0-1; D Duffy, P Bannon 0-1; J Smyth, C Lynam 0-3, A Gaughan, P Greville 0-3, M Flanagan 0-3(1 45), D Glennon 0-2. Subs: G Egan for Gaughan (33); D Dolan 0-1 for Smyth (44); T Warburton for Martin inj (52)
Wicklow: M Travers; C Hyland 0-1, D Ó hAnnaidh, S Kelly; A Byrne, B McGrath, D Hayden 0-1; J Stafford, JP Dalton; L Glynn, T Hannon 0-5(fs), N Mernagh 0-1; P Dalton, S Furlong 0-2(1f), P Earls 1-1. Sub: J Flynn for Travers inj (18); S Canavan for McGrath (62)
Referee: M Collins (Cork)