Westmeath 2-22 Kildare 2-13
Westmeath were pushed all the way by a determined Kildare side, but ultimately secured their Liam MacCarthy Cup status for 2015, thanks to a hard-earned nine-point win at Cusack Park, Mullingar.
Many fancied Westmeath to come away with a comfortable win, with Kildare just annexing their lone Christy Ring Cup success seven days previously, but it didn't totally pan that way as the Lilywhites really pushed the Midlanders all the way.
With nine minutes elapsed Kildare were fully deserving of their 2-4 to 0-4 lead, with Bernard Deay and Gerry Keegan netting their goals.
But, although the sides were also level on four occasions in the opening half, Westmeath kicked on, with a Derek McNicholas goal in first-half injury-time handing his side a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Despite nine Under 21 players in the starting 15, Westmeath showed great leadership in the second half, with one of those players Niall O'Brien finishing the game with 11 points.
Kildare made two enforced changes to the side which won last weekend’s final, with both Ross Kelly and Ray McLoughney gone to America for the Summer, with Willie Greene and Mark Delaney coming into the line-up.
Playing their first game in three weeks, following a loss to London at Cusack Park, Westmeath manager Brian Hanley made one change to his starting line-up, with Under 21 captain Aonghus Clarke replacing Noel Conaty.
Westmeath got off to the perfect start, with O'Brien firing his first point inside the opening 90 seconds, but Kildare certainly rose to the challenge early on.
The Lilywhites shaded most of the early exchanges at midfield, and were rewarded for this with an excellent supply of ball to their attack.
The sides were level on two times inside the opening four minutes, with Paul Divilly and Mark Moloney on target for Kildare, with Clarke taking Westmeath's second score.
However, Kildare really opened up this game over the following 90 seconds, registering 1-03 including Deay's goal to ensure a 1-03 to 0-02 lead after five and a half minutes.
Westmeath were hit hard at this point, but responded with an O'Brien score, after their captain Eoin Price had worked hard in the build-up.
Divilly and McNicholas traded points, before Kildare hit their second goal, this time through the energetic Keegan.
Moloney set up his fellow Celbridge clubman nicely with a handpass, before Keegan smashed the ball past Westmeath goalkeeper Peter Collins to hand the visitors a six-point lead.
Kildare edged a 2-04 to 0-06 lead at the end of the opening quarter, following a Keegan point, but Westmeath bounced back well.
Robbie Greville, Davy Gavin, Clarke and O'Brien were all on target to level the tie at 0-11 to 2-05, with nine minutes to go to the break.
Kildare lifted their game once more with points from Divilly and Mark Delaney, but Westmeath were looking dangerous.
An O'Brien 29th minute goal chance was cut off with an excellent flick by John Doran, but Westmeath continued to press hard before the break.
Aaron Craig and O'Brien followed up with points, before an injury-time goal from McNicholas, after a full-length dive by Kildare goalkeeper Paul Dermody failed to connect with the ball, handed the hosts a 1-13 to 2-07 interval lead.
This score handed the hosts a lead they wouldn't relinquish, with McNicholas pushing his side four points clear, with an early point on the restart.
O'Brien added a further point, before Delaney responded, but this would be Kildare's only score for 13 minutes, as Westmeath added an unanswered four points.
A Martin Fitzgerald score broke the Lilywhites dead-lock, and although Divilly converted a 65 metre free soonafter, one could sense a Westmeath victory at this stage.
Scoring chances were rare for Kildare at this stage, but with 15 minutes left Brian Lawlor's side did create two realistic goal chances.
Firstly Eanna O'Neill bore down on goals but blazed wide of the target, and then from the puck-out Deay set off on a run and cut inside, but his handpass to Keegan was cut off by Westmeath full-back Tommy Doyle.
Westmeath hit the next two scores, and although the likes of Tony Murphy and substitute Ryan Casey tried hard for the Christy Ring Cup champions it wasn't enough, with Devine's injury-time goal sealing a nine-point win.
Elsewhere, Longford gained promotion to the Nicky Rackard Cup for 2015, following a 3-17 to 3-13 win over Sligo in Ballinamore, despite having just 16 players!
Joe O'Brien finished top-scorer for the newly crowned Lory Meagher Cup champions, finishing with 1-9.
The sides were tied at the break on a 1-10 to 2-7 score-line, with netting for Longford, and Stephen Gilmartin and Keith Raymond netting Sligo's goals.
Gilmartin added his second on the restart, but O'Brien bagged goals for Frank Browne's side to help them to a four-point win.
WESTMEATH: P Collins; K Duncan, T Doyle, L Varley; G Greville, A Craig (0-1), P Gilsenan; P Reilly, E Price; R Greville (0-2), A Devine (1-0), D Gavin (0-2); A Clarke (0-2), D McNicholas (1-3), N O’Brien (0-11, 6f, 2 ’65). Subs: J Boyle (0-1) for Clarke (49); M Heaney for Reilly (55).
KILDARE: P Dermody; J Doran, F Ó Muineachain, N Ó Muineachain; D Harney, M Moloney (0-2), R Hoban; E Ó Neill, M Fitzgerald (0-1); W Greene, P Divilly (0-4, 1f, 2 ’65), B Deay (1-1); G Keegan (1-2), T Murphy, M Delaney (0-1). Subs: J O’Malley for Green (51); R Casey (0-2) for Delaney (59).
REFEREE: John Keenan (Wicklow)