Kelly's men progress despite late Offaly charge
Westmeath 1-9 Offaly 1-7
In the end, it was Colin Kelly who was smiling.
His 100pc record since taking charge of Westmeath remained intact in Mullingar after a game that his side had gone from looking comfortable in, to one that they might lose.
However, they deservedly held on to set up another local derby when they face Meath in next Sunday's Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup final in Portlaoise, their first appearance in the decider since 2005.
This win means the games keep coming for Westmeath. The condensed fixture list will see the Lake men play on the previous four weekends in the build-up to their league opener away to Derry at the end of the month.
Kelly wasn't complaining however. The chance to give his side another decent test before their Division 3 campaign commences is a welcome one.
"I want to play games," he replied when asked about the schedule. "For me, it's all about games. It makes my job a lot easier. There is too much of an emphasis in the GAA I feel with his craic about down time. What's wrong with playing every Sunday?
"We are going to play in one of the competitions we can win in a final and it's going to be live on TV in O'Moore park with a big crowd. This what these lads train for.
"Whether it is the O'Byrne Cup, the National League or a championship match, ideally you'd like to be playing games. Luckily for the last few weeks we are in the game or training to play matches and not playing a match to train. So it's a good environment at the minute."
For much of the first half, his Westmeath team looked a little ahead of their midland neighbours. Neither side managed to score for the opening nine minutes before Westmeath landed two quick-fire points.
They'd tag on another score through Luke Loughlin, who has been in good form this month, before Offaly struck for a goal against the run of play.
Westmeath looked to have a hopeful ball into their full-back line covered but a deflection off John Egan pushed the ball into the path of Joe O'Connor who finished well to square things up on the quarter-hour mark.
A Nigel Dunne free would push Offaly into the lead for what would prove to be the only time in the match but Westmeath would take charge and outscore the visitors by 1-4 to 0-1 on the run-in to half-time.
Denis Corroon enjoyed a productive first half and grabbed their goal after getting on the end of a clever pass from Kieran Martin. Corroon finished smartly and would also tag on another point as the home side took deserved 1-7 to 1-2 lead at the break.
The visitors had struggled badly in attack in that first half with Boidu Sayeh in good form in the full-back line for the home side in that first half where Offaly failed to score a point from play.
Their task looked even more onerous on the restart when Kieran Martin - who put in a man-of-the-match performance when switched to defence from the full-forward line - stretched their lead to six points.
However, Offaly would eventually find their groove. Prompted by the introduction of talented schoolboy Cian Johnson, they looked much more potent in attack in the second half.
Bernard Allen notched their first point from play on 47 minutes and three more would quickly follow to cut the gap to two points and make the locals restless coming down the home straight. Offaly were wasteful in this period and kicked three wides in around a minute while another effort hit the post. And when Westmeath broke clear to restore their three-point lead with seven minutes left, it felt like a crucial score.
That proved to be the case proved as Westmeath held on to win by two, leaving Offaly manager Stephen Wallace to rue that lacklustre first-half showing.
"When we went into the dressing room (at half-time) we fixed a few things and they played relatively good football in the second half. The shooting boots weren't on, we kicked three balls into the goalie's hands and at this level you can't do that, we missed kickable scores. It was chalk and cheese the second half to the first half but the first-half performance wouldn't be good enough," Wallace said.
"These guys were probably put into a pressure cooker here tonight with a bit of a target on their back with the two results they had. They'll learn and we have a few to come back too.
"The first half just wasn't good enough, you're standing on the sideline there and you're saying why are they doing that, they are doing stuff they are not being asked to do.
"From a coaching point of view (there's) no problem if it's not executed at the end of it, you'll take that because they are making the right decision, the game management is right and they doing the right thing but for 35 minutes they decided to do whatever they wanted themselves.
"But look it is what it is but we have to fix it."
Westmeath and Kelly remain unbeaten and they take that record to Portlaoise on Sunday.
And the Louth native is happy that his new charges are learning to dig their way out of difficult periods in games.
"What we have spoken about a lot over the last couple of weeks is our game management. We go through strong periods in the game and we ease off and have lulls in the game where for whatever reason we ease off the gas," he said.
"I don't think it's a case of the fitness levels, every team is as fit as the other, it's what you do when you have ball in hand and there are periods of the game we need to be stronger. But we closed it out well which was pleasing.
"They were difficult conditions to play his time of year it wasn't like last Sunday when it was calm and sunny; today it was windy and dull and damp and, credit to both teams, they provided us a good spectacle."
SCORERS - Westmeath: D Corroon 1-1, L Loughlin 0-3 (2f), J Egan 0-2, C McCormack, K Martin, F Coyne 0-1 each.
Offaly: J O'Connor 1-0, C Johnson, N Dunne (2f) 0-2 each, J Hayes, M Brazil, B Allen 0-1 each.
Westmeath - E Carberry; K Daly, S Duncan, M McCallon; J Dolan, B Sayeh, N Mulligan; A Stone, D Corroon; A Gardiner, L Loughlin, N Scally; C McCormack, K Martin, J Egan. Subs: F Coyne for Scally (h-t), F Boyle for Stone (60), G Leech for Martin (65), C Slevin for Gardiner (70).
Offaly - P Dunican; D Brady, P McConway, S Pender; D Dempsey, C Donoghue, J Lalor; C McNamee, S Nally; J Hayes, A Sullivan, J O'Connor; B Allen, N Dunne, S Doyle. Subs: C Johnson for Doyle, M Brazil for Sullivan (both h-t), B O'Dea for McNamee (45), A O'Sullivan for O'Connor (58), S Tierney for Allen (65).
Ref - D Hickey (Carlow).