Last-minute McNicholas strike saves Westmeath from the drop
Westmeath avoided relegation to Division 3 by the skin of their teeth in Ballycran yesterday afternoon, when a late goal from Derek McNicholas helped them to a two-point win over Down, whose status in Division 2 for 2011 had already been secured.
The winners dominated the first half, aided by a slight wind and playing downhill. Goals in the 27th minute from Derek McNicholas and some six minutes later from Eoin Price, helped Kevin Martin's charges to a 2-8 to 0-6 interval lead.
In what was never a dirty game, Simon Wilson (Down) and Alan Dowdall (Westmeath) were both dismissed on second yellow cards in first-half injury time.
Down came much more into the game on the change of ends, with the introduction of Paul Braniff adding significantly to their attacking potency, despite the fact that he could only manage a point from a 50th-minute penalty.
Westmeath, with Paul Greville outstanding at full-back and Brendan Murtagh leading the attack in style, still looked very likely winners when they were ahead by 2-10 to 0-11 midway through the second half.
However, the home team tacked on 1-4 without reply over the ensuing eight minutes to take a two-point lead into the final 10 minutes of normal time.
Down still held the narrowest of leads as the game was heading towards injury time when Joe Clarke did extremely well to keep John Shaw's lineball in play and set up the inrushing Derek McNicholas for a tap-in goal to the delight of the small travelling support.
Brendan Murtagh and James Coyle exchanged points from late frees meaning that it is Kildare who now drop to Division 3, despite defeating Westmeath earlier in the campaign.
Scorers - Westmeath: B Murtagh 0-8 (0-6f), D McNicholas 2-2, E Price 1-1, A Mitchell 0-2 (0-1f, 0-1 '65), C Curley 0-1.
Down: J Coyle 0-7 (0-6f), P Braniff 0-3 (0-1 pen), SWilson 0-3 (fs), C O'Prey 1-0, C Woods, P Keith 0-2 each, A Savage 0-1.
Westmeath -- B McLoughlin; C Jordan, P Greville, G Gavin; J Shaw, A Mitchell, D McCormack; E Price, L Smith; J Clarke, D McNicholas, A Dowdall; C Curley, B Murtagh, D Carty. Subs: P Gilsenan for Carty (58), R Jackson for Curley (70).
Down -- K Keating; F Conway, S Murray, S Ennis; S Wilson, R McGrattan, M Ennis; A Savage, K McGarry; C O'Prey, C Woods, B Ennis; J Coyle, C Coulter, P Keith. Subs: S Clarke for B Ennis (25), E Clarke for Coulter (h-t), P Braniff for McGarry.
Ref -- R Matthews (Antrim).