Westmeath's senior hurlers pulled off a big surprise with a rare, but thoroughly deserved, win over near neighbours Offaly at Kinnegad yesterday.
The game got off to an amazing start when referee Paud O'Dwyer brandished red cards to midfielders Aonghus Clarke (Westmeath) and Shane Kelly (Offaly) within a few seconds of the throw-in.
Offaly had the advantage of a very strong wind in the first half but, apart from corner-forward Shane Dooley's accuracy from placed balls, the pre-match favourites posed little threat in attack.
A great goal from star forward Brendan Murtagh in the fourth minute of injury-time gave Westmeath a lift and left them 1-5 to 0-6 ahead at the interval.
Murtagh pounced for his second goal in the 45th minute, finishing to the net from a tight angle.
Offaly seldom threatened to get the goal they badly needed and their slim hopes of an unlikely comeback effectively ended when substitute Ger Healion was sent off, after picking up a second yellow card with seven minutes of normal time remaining.
In the end, Westmeath won with a bit to spare and a classy point from substitute John Gilligan in the dying moments epitomised a very encouraging display by Brian Hanley's men.
Scorers -- Westmeath: B Murtagh 2-6 (5f), P Dowdall, A Mitchell (1f, 1 '65') 0-2 each, F Boyle, P Greville, J Gilligan 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 0-9 (7f), S Ryan, G Healion, M Morkan 0-1 each.
Westmeath -- S McGovern; P Fennell, A Price, C Jordan; D Fennell, E Price, P Gilsenan; P Dowdall, A Clarke; P Greville, F Boyle, A Mitchell; B Murtagh, D Higgins, J Shaw. Subs: A Dermody for Boyle (inj, h-t), D Carty for Higgins (47), J Gilligan for D Fennell (65).
Offaly -- J Dempsey; M Verney, P Healion, S Wynne; E Murphy, R Hanniffy, D Horan; J Bergin, S Kelly; D Dunne, C Egan, B Murphy; S Dooley, D Molloy, S Ryan. Subs: G Healion for Molloy (34), M Morkan for Dunne (46), S Coughlan for P Healion (47).
Ref -- P O'Dwyer (Carlow).