Despite leaking two goals inside the opening nine minutes, Westmeath bounced back to maintain their Liam MacCarthy Cup status for 2015, following a 2-22 to 2-13 win over Kildare at Cusack Park, Mullingar this afternoon.
Just seven days after their inaugural Christy Ring Cup success, Kildare were classed as underdogs heading into this game, but firmly swept off this tag early on.
Goals from Bernard Deay and Gerry Keegan helped them to a 2-04 to 0-04 lead after nine minutes.
Westmeath kept in touch thanks to the brilliance of Niall O'Brien (0-11) from frees, and a Derek McNicholas injury-time goal handed the hosts a 1-13 to 2-07 interval lead.
The Lough Lene Gaels clubman's score handed Westmeath a lead they wouldn't relinquish, and despite the best efforts of Tony Murphy and Ryan Casey for Kildare, a 72nd-minute Alan Devine goal handed Westmeath a nine-point win.
Kildare made two enforced changes to the side which won last weekend’s final, with both Ross Kelly and Ray McLoughney gone to America for the summer, with Willie Greene and Mark Delaney coming into the line-up.
Playing their first game in three weeks, following a win over London at Cusack Park, Westmeath manager Brian Hanley made one change to his starting line-up, with Under-21 captain Aonghus Clarke replacing Noel Conaty.
Westmeath got off to the perfect start, with O'Brien firing his first point inside the opening 90 seconds, but Kildare certainly rose to the challenge early on.
The Lilywhites shaded most of the early exchanges at midfield, and were rewarded for this with an excellent supply of ball to their attack.
The sides were level two times inside the opening four minutes, with Paul Divilly and Mark Moloney on target for Kildare, with Clarke taking Westmeath's second score.
However, Kildare really opened up this game over the following 90 seconds, registering 1-03 including Deay's goal to ensure a 1-03 to 0-02 lead after five and a half minutes.
Westmeath were hit hard at this point, but responded with an O'Brien score, after their captain Eoin Price had worked hard in the build-up.
Divilly and McNicholas traded points, before Kildare hit their second goal, this time through the energetic Keegan.
Moloney set up his fellow Celbridge clubman nicely with a handpass, before Keegan smashed the ball past Westmeath goalkeeper Peter Collins to hand the visitors a six-point lead.
Kildare edged a 2-04 to 0-06 lead at the end of the opening quarter, following a Keegan point, but Westmeath bounced back well.
Robbie Greville, Davy Gavin, Clarke and O'Brien were all on target to level the tie at 0-11 to 2-05, with nine minutes to go to the break.
Kildare lifted their game once more with points from Divilly and Mark Delaney, but Westmeath were looking dangerous.
An O'Brien 29th-minute goal chance was cut off with an excellent flick by John Doran, but Westmeath continued to press hard before the break.
Aaron Craig and O'Brien followed up with points, before an injury-time goal from McNicholas, after a full-length dive by Kildare goalkeeper Paul Dermody failed to connect with the ball, handed the hosts a 1-13 to 2-07 interval lead.
This score handed the hosts a lead they wouldn't relinquish, with McNicholas pushing his side four points clear, with an early point on the restart.
O'Brien added a further point, before Delaney responded, but this would be Kildare's only score for 13 minutes, as Westmeath added an unanswered four points.
A Martin Fitzgerald score broke the Lilywhites dead-lock, and although Divilly converted a 65 metre free soon after, one could sense a Westmeath victory at this stage.
Scoring chances were rare for Kildare at this stage, but with 15 minutes left Brian Lawlor's side did create two realistic goal chances.
Firstly, Eanna O'Neill bore down on goals but blazed wide of the target, and then from the puck-out Deay set off on a run and cut inside, but his handpass to Keegan was cut off by Westmeath full-back Tommy Doyle.
Westmeath hit the next two scores, and although the likes of Tony Murphy and substitute Ryan Casey tried hard for the Christy Ring Cup champions it wasn't enough, with Devine's injury-time goal sealing a nine-point win.
Westmeath: P Collins; K Duncan, T Doyle, L Varley; G Greville, A Craig (0-01), P Gilsenan; P Reilly, E Price; R Greville (0-02), A Devine (1-00), D Gavin (0-02); A Clarke (0-02), D McNicholas (1-03), N O’Brien (0-11, 6f, 2 ’65). Subs: J Boyle (0-01) for Clarke (49); M Heaney for Reilly (55).
Kildare: P Dermody; J Doran, F Ó Muineachain, N Ó Muineachain; D Harney, M Moloney (0-02), R Hoban; E Ó Neill, M Fitzgerald (0-01); W Greene, P Divilly (0-04, 1f, 2 ’65), B Deay (1-01); G Keegan (1-02), T Murphy, M Delaney (0-01). Subs: J O’Malley for Green (51); R Casey (0-02) for Delaney (59).
Elsewhere, Longford followed up on their Lory Meagher Cup win by beating Sligo 3-17 to 3-13 and securing promotion to next year's Nicky Rackard Cup.
Sligo will take their place in the Lory Meagher competition.