PAT FLANAGAN stepped from a circle of whooping players to challenge the elaborate fictions of Westmeath football in Mullingar yesterday.
This nail-biting defeat of neighbours Offaly "stopped the tide," as Flanagan put it.
Successive seasons of relegation, without the paltry consolation of even a solitary win, had Westmeath down as the sick child of Leinster football. Did they even have a pulse?
But Flanagan has now guided them to the top of Division 3 and into a league final against Louth that, not so long ago, would have seemed a fanciful ambition.
"I was standing on that line the day against Wexford and I could hear the complaints from the crowd," he reflected. "And rightly so, to be totally honest about it. Some of our games at the start were poor to look at, to say the least.
"But the last few games we've been able to show the massive determination in this group. There's a lot more in them than they're given credit for. You saw it today too. Some of the lads were out on their feet, but they kept going. And it was immense to watch them."
It had gone to the wire, but it shouldn't have. In fact, some Offaly supporters were incensed that Niall McNamee wasn't awarded an injury-time free after a collision with Kevin Maguire.
Referee Martin Sludden waved play on, enabling Westmeath to mount the attack that delivered Fergal Wilson's concluding score.
Yet, Offaly had only themselves to blame, as manager Tom Cribbin would graciously conclude.
Two Bernard Allen goals kept them in a contest they only really came to grips with when substitute Niall Smith arrived to anchor an ailing midfield.
Westmeath led 0-12 to 1-6 at the mid-point, their two-man full-forward line of Dessie Dolan and Denis Glennon (until injured) causing havoc.
Indeed, the margin might have been significantly wider, given a Dolan goal was disallowed for a hand-pass deemed a throw, and the same player then had a shot cleared off the goal-line by Offaly full-forward John Reynolds.
Allen had goaled at the other end on six minutes, finishing smartly after Graham Guilfoyle cut far too easily inside Doran Harte onto an incoming delivery. But thereafter Offaly were lethargic and -- as Cribbin conceded -- lacking the requisite intensity. An impressive Westmeath scoring burst just after the resumption, with Dolan and Paul Greville especially to the fore, eased them six points clear (0-16 to 1-7) and, seemingly, well-set for a comprehensive win.
But the introduction of Smith and an impressive Joe Quinn revitalised Offaly.
With 16 minutes remaining, Allen ghosted onto a breaking ball and rolled a calm finish past Gary Connaughton to send local heartbeats racing.
Two minutes from time, Ger Egan's magnificent block denied Padraig Bracken, after the ever-dangerous McNamee drifted inside Kieran Gavin.
No matter, an overlapping Brian Darby then brought Offaly to within a point only for Kieran Martin to then produce a second miracle Westmeath block, this time from Reynolds.
The game was deep in injury-time when Sludden deemed McNamee's collision with Maguire accidental and Westmeath torqued clear for Wilson to get the security score after Denis Corroon's effort came back off an upright.
"I didn't see it well enough to make a call, so I'm not going to blame anyone," said Cribbin with an honesty all too unfamiliar these days.
Offaly, he admits, are going to find it tough now getting themselves right for Championship. "There's no point in codding ourselves and thinking otherwise," he said.
Man of the Match: D Dolan (Westmeath).
SCORERS -- Westmeath: D Dolan 0-6, P Greville 0-5 (1f), D Corroon, P Sharry 0-2 each, C Lynam, David Glennon, Denis Glennon, F Wilson 0-1 each. Offaly: B Allen 2-0, C McManus 0-4 (3f), N McNamee 0-3, T Deehan 0-2 (1f), B Darby, J Reynolds 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH -- G Connaughton 7; F Boyle 6, K Gavin 7, J Gaffey 6; G Egan 7, A Finnan 8, D Harte 6; B Murtagh 7, D Corroon 8; P Sharry 7, David Glennon 7, C Lynam 7; P Greville 8, D Dolan 9, Denis Glennon 7. Subs: J Dolan 7 for Denis Glennon (27), K Maguire 7 for Gaffey (33), K Martin 6 for Boyle (52), S Quinn 6 for David Glennon (56), F Wilson for Lynam (70 mins).
OFFALY -- A Mulhall 7; B Darby 7, S Brady 6, S Pender 6; S Sullivan 7, K Slattery 7, J Keane 6; R Dalton 7, B Connor 6; G Guilfoyle 7, N McNamee 8, C McManus 7; B Allen 7, J Reynolds 7, T Deehan 6. Subs: P Bracken 7 for Keane (h-t), J Quinn 7 for Brady (44), N Smith 8 for Connor (44), S Ryan for Deehan (63 mins).
Ref -- M Sludden (Tyrone)