Páidi Ó Sé is the toast of Westmeath following his side's first Leinster SFC win over midland rivals Offaly since 1949. Despite two late attempts from Ciaran McManus and Neville Coughlan, Offaly failed to draw level after Westmeath half back Michael Ennis struck over on 67 minutes for what was the winning point in a 0-11 to 0-10 win at Croke Park.
Ó Sé's side fought off the the disappointment of midfielder Rory O'Connell's 46th minute straight red card for striking an opponent, to deliver a superb display in front of 32,563.
Corner forward Dessie Dolan drove them on to a first half lead of 0-07 to 0-03 with four excellent points, and despite Offaly drawing back level with five minutes remaining, they claimed the win that sees them back at headquarters on June 6 to face Dublin (2.15pm).
Dolan pointed a 40-metre free on three minutes and fed Fergal Wilson for a ninth minute point from play to sandwich Offaly's sole effort in the opening exchanges from Pascal Kellaghan.
Mullingar Shamrock Brian Morley was in lively form also and his 35-metre effort in the twelfth minute pushed Westmeath into a two-point lead. Offaly half forward Alan McNamee replied but Dolan was to own the rest of the half, scoring from all angles and accounting from 'that' late missed free against Meath last season.
A 13-metre free from Dolan was added to by Morley again on 21 minutes but Jimmy Grennan soon made it a 0-05 to 0-03 game with a punched point. The closing stages of the half saw debutant Westmeath 'keeper Gary Connaughton pull off a great save from a goal-bound Coughlan shot and Dolan push Westmeath out to seven with efforts on 29 and 34 minutes.
The restart was all about how Offaly would come back and a quick double effort from McManus and Kellaghan brought the Faithful back within touching distance. Dolan replied but the Westmeath charge hit a setback when Tipp referee Paddy Russell sent O'Connell to the line. Ó'Sé did not alter his line-up immediately and they responded with scores from teenage debutant Denis Glennon, after a great set up by Derek Heavin, and Dolan again.
McManus (0-02), Karl Slattery and Coughlan ate into that lead however and from all of 50 metres, and with Westmeath tiring, UCD graduate McManus levelled with a giant of a point with five minutes remaining, at 0-10 apiece.
Two minutes later, a raid by Ennis ended with a fine chipped point by the Ballinagore man, who plays for his club in the forwards. McManus and Coughlan, Man of the Match against Down in the Division 2 final failed in injury-time, to see Paidi jump for joy at full time.
"Our players went into another gear after the sending off, and it's a credit to them," said the Kerryman, "I didn't see the incident but Rory has pleaded his innocence and he does do that often. It's unfortunate in the circumstances but we came back well."
"Offaly will be kicking themselves - they had chances to equalise at the end, but so did we. We're pleased to have gotten over the first championship hurdle."
Offaly: P Kelly; S Sullivan, C Evans, S Brady; B Mooney, C Daly, K Slattery; C McManus, J Grennan; P Kelleghan, R Malone, A McNamee; C Quinn, N Coughlan, N McNamee. Subs: M Daly for Malone (45 mins), B Malone for Sullivan (61 mins)
Westmeath: G Connaughton; J Davitt, D O'Donoghue, J Keane; M Ennis, D Healy, D Heavin; R O'Connell, D O'Shaughnessy; B Morley, G Dolan, A Mangan; F Wilson, D Glennon, D Dolan.
Subs: P Conway for G Dolan (57 mins, temp), Conway for G Dolan (67 mins), JP Casey for Glennon (68 mins), Joe Fallon for Casey (71 mins)
Filed by Barry J Whyte