Louth 1-15 Westmeath 0-13
Louth exorcised their Croke Park demons with triumph in the NFL Division Three final, a late flourish seeing off Westmeath in a thrilling encounter.
Following last summer’s nightmare at GAA headquarters, the men from the Wee County appeared to have fear and trepidation in their hearts, but they came good in the closing stages, and a Ronan Carroll goal steered them to victory.
Brian Donnelly and Liam Shevlin slotted over points to give Louth an early lead, and they exposed gaps in the Westmeath defence to create goal chances for Pairic Smith. First he blasted wide, and later was denied by an excellent Aidan Finnan block as the Midlanders lived dangerously at the back.
Conor Lynam hit Westmeath’s only point of the opening quarter, but they were just a point behind by the 20 minute mark, when Lynam’s second score cancelled out a Ronan Carroll effort.
Louth continued to press forward with conviction, and Adrian Reid made it 0-5 to 0-2 on 24 minutes.
But Pat Flanagan’s side began to find a momentum of sorts, and three points in as many minutes, two of them from Lynam, helped them go level.
Two Paul Greville scores gave the Midlanders another boost, before Denis Glennon shot them ahead for the first time in stoppage time, 0-7 to 0-6 at the break
And they continued to build impressively after the restart, Lynam and Glennon again finishing with aplomb.
Smith’s attempt to send Derek Maguire in on goal was thwarted by Kieran Gavin’s timely interception, but at the other end, Westmeath were much more clinical in taking their scores, Glennon and Greville again hitting the target.
Andy McDonnell’s spectacular sliced effort and a point from Smith kept the Wee men very much in touch, with Paddy Keenan narrowing the gap to a point.
Keenan and Donnelly raised their game at midfield, and things began to happen for Peter Fitzpatrick’s side.
Both midfielders powered over points, and in the 60h minute, substitute JP Rooney e an inspired intervention. With his first touch, he dribbled through, only to see his shot kept out by Gary Connaughton, but Carroll followed home to poke home the rebound.
Louth never looked back, and finished the job off with scores from Ray Finnegan, Keenan and Maguire.
Louth: S Connor, E McAuley, A Hoey, G Hoey, R Finnegan (0-1), D Finnegan, L Shevlin (0-1), P Keenan (0-3, 1f), B Donnelly (0-2, 1f), D Crilly, M Brennan, A McDonnell (0-1), P Smith (0-1), R Carroll (1-3), A Reid (0-1).
Subs: J Carr for Hoey, D Maguire (0-3, 1f) for Brennan, S Fitzpatrick for McAuley, JP Rooney for Smith
Westmeath: G Connaughtom, F Boyle, K Gavin, J Gaffey, G Egan, A Finnan, D Harte, B Murtagh, D Corroon, P Sharry, D Glennon, C Lynam (0-5 (1f), P Greville (0-5, 1f), J Dolan, D Glennon (0-3).
Subs: K Maguire for Gaffey, K Martin for Finnan, S Quinn for Harte, M Curley for Sharry.
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).