Derry 1-18 Westmeath 0-15
Derry produced a stunning finish to lift the NFL Division Two title at Croke Park.
Just when it looked like two fiercely committed teams would need extra-time to settle a thrilling encounter, the Ulster men suddenly caught fire and blitzed their opponents with 1-3 in stoppage time.
Substitute Emmet McGuckin plundered the only goal of an enthralling contest to give Brian McIver’s side a remarkable winning margin of six points.
They were level on six occasions before the Oak Leafers conjured that late rally that simply blew the Lake county away.
Derry got off to a flyer with four points in the opening six minutes, Sean Leo McGoldrick, Ryan Bell and Eoin Bradley (2) all hitting the target.
But after John Heslin registered Westmeath’s opening score from a free in the 11th minute, they shook off all their inhibitions and nerves and began to perform with conviction, attacking with flair and menace.
Ger Egan and Heslin narrowed the gap further, and while the Oak Leafers did counter for scores from Bradley, the Leinster side’s defending had improved immeasurably, with Kevin Maguire, John Gaffey and Paul Sharry getting through some excellent work.
And Pat Flanagan’s side hit a purple patch, hitting six points in as many minutes early in the second quarter.
Superb efforts from Egan and Denis Glennon had their supporters in raptures as they opened out a three points lead.
Heslin claimed his fourth score of the afternoon, with Ciaran Curley also weighing in with a stylish effort, and Derry appeared to be on the rack.
But they turned things around in the closing stages of the half, with James Kielt thumping over a couple of eye-catching long range scores, and Raymond Wilkinson bringing the sides level in stoppage time.
They were deadlocked at 0-10 each at the end of a high-scoring first half, and following a lengthy delay for an uinjry which ended Raymond Wilkinson’s game, the Oak Leafers went back in front.
Substitute Colin Devlin had a shot deflected out for a ’45, which Benny Heron planted between the posts.
But Westmeath sub Dessie Dolan had the sides level for the fourth time, the Leinster men assisted by some wayward shooting by their opponents,
Dolan was a serious threat, popping up everywhere to link play and execute scoring chances himself, hitting two more points as the game built to a tense, thrilling finish.
The Oak Leafers kep thteir noses in front, however, thanks largely to the ball-winning ability of midfielder Patsy Bradley, with another Keilt special edging them into a 0-14 to 0-13 lead on 58 minutes.
Heslin’s fifth score of the afternoon, from an acute angle free, levelled for the sixth time, and just when it looked as if this decider was heading for extra-time, Brian McIver’s men produced a stunning finish, hitting 1-3 in stoppage time to blow their opponents away.
Bell and Kielt sent long range efforts sailing between the posts, and substitute Ciaran McFaul clinched it with the only goal of the game, netted at the second attempt from close range after Gary Connaughton had saved.
Derry scorers: E McGuckin 1-0, J Kielt, E Bradley (2f) 0-4 each, R Bell 0-2 (1f), C McFaukl 0-2 each, G O’Kane, D Heavron, B Heron (45), E Lynn, R Wilkinson, S McGoldrick 0-1 each.
Westmeath scorers: J Heslin 0-5 (4f), D Dolan 0-3, C McCormack, G Egan, D Glennon 0-2 each, C Curley 0-1.
Westmeath: G Connaughton, M McCallon, J Gaffey, K Maguire, D Harte, P Sharry, J Dolan, D Duffy, J Heslin, G Egan, C McCormack, K Martin, D Corron, C Curley, D Glennon.
Subs: D Dolan for Martin, K Gavin for McCallon, Damian Dolan for Corron, L Smith for Curley
Derry: E McNicholl, A McAlynn, C McKaigue, G O’Kane, C Keilt, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick, P Bradley, R Bell, D Heavron, J Kielt, E Lynn, B Heron, E Bradley, R Wilkinson.
Subs: C Devlin for Wilkinson, C McFaul for Heavron, E McGuckin for E Bradley, L Kennedy for Heron.
Referee: C Lane (Cork).