A converted free by John Heslin in the fifth minute of injury-time secured a vital brace of National Football League Division 2 points for Westmeath against Clare in Mullingar on Sunday afternoon.
An opportunist goal by Gavin Cooney put the visitors 1-1 to 0-1 ahead in the sixth minute. Ten minutes later, Anthony McGivney’s well-taken goal levelled the contest at 1-2 apiece. Clare’s Dermot Coughlan was sin-binned in the dying moments of the first half and Westmeath led by 1-5 to 1-3 at the interval.
A great goal by roving corner-back Jack Smith put the home team five points to the good (2-7 to 1-5) in the 49th minute, but Clare - with David Tubridy always prominent - patiently clawed their way back into contention, and they drew level in the third minute of added-time courtesy of a fine point by Coughlan.
A draw looked likely until sub Tommy McDaniel was fouled after producing a great catch, and Heslin stepped up to win the day for Westmeath.
A skirmish in the last minute of normal time resulted in Killian Daly (Westmeath) and Alan Sweeney (Clare) picking up straight red cards.
Understandably, the winning manager Jack Cooney was delighted with the outcome.
“This was an important two points today. After coming up from Division 3, we said that this was a really good opportunity for us,” he said.
“I thought we were in a really good position half way through the second half, but we kind of went into our shell a little bit. It left it very tight coming down the final straight, but I thought the lads showed great character and composure deep into injury-time to work a free and for John (Heslin) to convert it. I think it was a fitting reward, to be honest.”
Cooney lauded the two Westmeath goalscorers, both defenders, saying: “The goal by Jack was a great score. It was well worked up the pitch. He had a lot to do when he received the final pass, but I thought he slotted it away really well.
“For the first goal, Ray (Connellan) did great work down through the middle. He drew a few defenders and slipped it to Anthony who has been in the panel for a couple of years, and he was excellent today. I am very pleased for him.
“We kicked some great scores today, but we just need to do more of that.”
Colm Collins, whose side won last summer’s third round championship qualifier tie at the same venue by a point was unhappy with his charges’ wasteful display.
“It was a typical end of January game, but let’s give credit to Westmeath. We drew level with them and then they came back and won the game, but I thought we were poor enough today.
“I thought our shot selection in the first half was poor and the return we were getting from shots on goal would not win any game. We have got to be a lot smarter in front of goal.
“We did well in the second half and got some good scores, but our shot selection in the first half cost us dearly.”
Scorers for Westmeath: J Heslin 0-4 (3f), A McGivney, J Smith 1-0 each, R Connellan 0-2, K Maguire, C McCormack, L Dolan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Clare: D Tubridy 0-8 (7f), G Cooney 1-0, K Sexton, D Coughlan, E Cleary (f) 0-1 each.
Westmeath: E Carberry; J Smith, R Wallace, B Sayeh; K Daly, K Maguire, A McGivney; D Corroon, R Connellan; J Dolan, J Heslin, D Lynch; C McCormack, R O’Toole, L Dolan.
Subs: C Slevin for McGivney (57), T McDaniel for McCormack (59), L Loughlin for L Dolan (68), C Coughlan for Lynch (68).
Clare: S Ryan; K Harnett, C Brennan, G Kelly; S Collins, P Lillis, D Ryan; C Russell, C O’Connor; C O’Dea, E Cleary, D Coughlan; K Sexton, D Tubridy, G Cooney.
Subs: A Sweeney for Ryan (54), C Murray for Cooney (54), E Collins for S Collins (68), C Downes for O’Connor (69), D Masterson for Russell (70 + 4).
Ref: N Cullen (Fermanagh).