Lake joy as Heslin seals top-flight spot
Westmeath sealed promotion to Division 1 in style at icy-cold Cusack Park, Mullingar with a one-point win over Armagh in a tremendous game of football which went right down to the wire.
Stefan Forker and Callum McCormack traded points in the opening five minutes, as did Tony Kernan and Denis Glennon by the 10th minute.
The tit-for-tat scoring continued with left-footed frees from Kieran Martin and Aaron Kernan, while John Heslin's first converted free was soon cancelled out by a fabulous point from play by Kernan.
Another Forker free and a second outstanding score from play by Kernan put Paul Grimley's men two points to the good, but a fisted effort from McCormack halved the deficit by the half-hour mark. Armagh finished the half strongly with unanswered points from Forker (three) and Aaron Kernan, to leave the visitors 0-10 to 0-5 ahead at the break.
Spurred on by a vociferous home following in the 2,500 crowd, Pat Flanagan's troops had equalised within seven minutes of the restart, with points from Martin, Glennon (two), McCormack and Ger Egan.
Two Kernan frees nudged Armagh in front, but the Lake County men fired over four points without reply between the 47th and 52nd minutes – two classy scores from marquee substitute Dessie Dolan, and a brace of frees from Heslin.
Armagh battled bravely against the elements and points from Aaron Kernan, substitute Charlie Vernon and a composed shot from Stephen Harold put them a point to the good with 14 minutes left on the clock.
Glennon, via the upright, and Heslin, a 50-metre free via the crossbar, restored Westmeath's lead, but Forker equalised with a great point under pressure in the 61st minute.
The game was now up for grabs as the tension mounted and Westmeath wasted some good opportunities, before Heslin kept his cool to slot over a free in the second minute of injury-time.
Only two additional minutes had been signalled, but the referee – who was somewhat inconsistent in his whistling throughout – allowed four, and Aaron Kernan missed a last-gasp free to earn his side what would probably have been a deserved share of the points at the end of a pulsating contest.
Man of the match: D Glennon (Westmeath)
SCORERS – Westmeath: J Heslin 0-5 (5fs), D Glennon 0-4, C McCormack 0-3, D Dolan, K Martin (1f) 0-2 each, G Egan 0-1. Armagh: A Kernan 0-7 (5fs), S Forker 0-6 (3fs), S Harold, T Kernan, C Vernon 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH – G Connaughton 6; M McCallon 6, K Gavin 6, K Maguire 7; M Curley 6, J Gaffey 6, J Dolan 6; D Duffy 8, J Heslin 7; K Martin 6, C McCormack 7, D Corroon 5; G Egan 6, C Curley 5, D Glennon 9. Subs: D Dolan 7 for C Curley (46), P Sharry 6 for Corroon (58), D Harte for M Curley (70).
ARMAGH – P McEvoy 6; F Moriarty 5, B Donaghy 6, D McKenna 6; A Kernan 8, C McKeever 6, K Dyas 6; K Toner 7, S Harold 6; B Mallon 6, J Hanratty 5, C Rafferty 5; T Kernan 6, S Forker 8, G McParland 6. Subs: M Shields 6 for Hanratty (28), C Vernon 7 for Mallon (51), J Donnelly 6 for McKenna (52).
REF – C Lane (Cork).