Louth 0-12 Westmeath 1-6
Louth held Westmeath to just three second-half points as they celebrated Paddy Keenan’s 100th appearance for the county with a comeback win.
Westmeath built a 1-3 to 0-5 half-time lead at Haggardstown, with Callum McCormack netting just past the quarter hour.
But the visitors struggled to keep pace with Louth in the second period as Darren Clarke and captain Keenan drove them on with key scores. Substitute Aaron Hoey also added a late point.
Both sides were missing some of their first choice players, with the loss of Dessie Dolan and the All-Ireland-tied Garrycastle contingent and a number of dual players seriously weakening the Westmeath line-up.
David Glennon was a late withdrawal in attack for the Lake County, with Paul Sharry taking his place, but there was a welcome return for centre-back Michael Ennis who is back from an 18-month injury-enforced absence.
The league opener came too soon for the likes of Mark Brennan, Shane Lennon and Mick Fanning, while Jamie Carr picked up a knock in training this week.
Still, Louth looked to have the edge early on when Clarke fired over from 40 metres out and Ronan Carroll nudged them into a 0-2 to 0-0 lead after 13 minutes.
Westmeath had a measured response though, Sharry setting up Trevor English for their first point and then a good team move left the home defence exposed and corner forward McCormack supplied the finish for the goal.
In sunny conditions, Carroll and Clarke (free) got Louth back on terms by the 21st minute and with Kieran Gavin keeping James Califf quiet on the edge of the square, Hoey was soon introduced.
Keenan’s first point of the afternoon gave his side a 0-5 to 1-1 buffer with six minutes of the half remaining, only for Denis Glennon and Kieran Martin to steer Westmeath back in front for the break.
English and Aidan Finnan combined well in centre-field for Pat Flanagan’s side, however their influence waned over the closing 35 minutes.
Louth began to convert their chances with Clarke and Keenan landing an early brace to nudge them ahead at 0-8 to 1-4.
Wing back Liam Shevlin darted forward to add his name to the scoresheet and after Denis Glennon was replaced, Westmeath evidently lacked the firepower to mount a response.
With time running out, Peter Fitzpatrick’s men made certain of the win with closing points from Hoey, Keenan and free-taker Clarke.
LOUTH: Neil Gallagher; Gerard Hoey, Dessie Finnegan, Ronan Greene; Ray Finnegan, Derek Crilly, Liam Shevlin; Paddy Keenan, Brian Donnelly; Jim McEneaney, Ronan Carroll, Adrian Reid; Derek Maguire, James Califf, Darren Clarke.
WESTMEATH: Gary Connaughton; Michael Curley, Kieran Gavin, Daniel McDermott; Ronan Foley, Michael Ennis, Trevor McGuire; Trevor English, Aidan Finnan; Kieran Martin, Alan Giles, Philip Sheridan; Paul Sharry, Denis Glennon, Callum McCormack.
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry)