Westmeath recovered from being eight points down after 12 minutes to record a deserved win by five points against Wicklow in miserable conditions for football at TEG Cusack Park.
Wind-assisted Wicklow got off to the best possible start when Darragh Fitzgerald rolled the ball past Jason Daly for a tonic goal after 70 seconds.
Further points followed from Kevin Quinn, Dean Healy – many present thought the ball had gone wide – and Mark Kenny before Nigel Harte, who had just replaced injured skipper Kevin Maguire, opened the home team's account in the ninth minute.
When Eoin Darcy, a day after celebrating his 21st birthday, cut in along the endline before rifling the ball past Daly for Wicklow’s second goal in the 13th minute, the underdogs were 2-03 to 0-01 ahead. Malachy Stone was black-carded in the 22nd minute and fine points from play by John Heslin and Luke Loughlin helped Jack Cooney’s men to get the deficit down to three points (2-04 to 0-07).
Conditions deteriorated towards the end of the first half but Wicklow, managed by Colin Kelly (Cooney’s predecessor in the Lake County bainisteoir’s bib) scored excellent late points via the outstanding Quinn and Padraig O’Toole, either side of the dismissal of Rory Stokes on a second yellow card, to lead by 2-06 to 0-07 at the interval.
Westmeath had the half-time interval deficit whittled away within six minutes of the resumption of play, courtesy of a Heslin free and a fine point from play by the lively Ronan O’Toole, before the latter teed up Sam McCartan for a well-taken goal.
With an extra player and the aid of the wind, the home team looked sure to kick on, but it was a full ten minutes before impressive sub Lorcan Dolan edged them ahead for the first time.
All that Wicklow could muster in the second half was two successful placed balls from goalkeeper Mark Jackson – a '45’ and a free – while Westmeath tagged on six points in the final quarter, the last two from Heslin (a free) and Dolan coming after Loughlin was dismissed in the 69th minute after picking up a quickfire brace of yellow cards.
Westmeath: Jason Daly; Jack Smith, Kevin Maguire, Jamie Gonoud; David Giles, Ronan Wallace, Sam McCartan (1-00); Ray Connellan, Jonathan Lynam; Luke Loughlin (0-02, 0-01'45'), Conor McCormack, David Lynch (0-01); Ronan O’Toole (0-01), John Heslin (0-07, 0-05f), Alex Gardiner (0-01).
Subs: Nigel Harte (0-02) for Maguire (inj., 7), Lorcan Dolan (0-02) for McCormack (48), Kieran Martin for Lynam (63), Fola Ayorinde for Connellan (70).
Wicklow: Mark Jackson (0-02, 0-01f, 0-01‘45’); Patrick O’Keane, Nicky Devereux, Eoin Murtagh; Andy Maher, Niall Donnelly, Malachy Stone; Dean Healy (0-01), Padraig O’Toole (0-01); Eoin Darcy (1-00), Mark Kenny (0-01), Darragh Fitzgerald (1-00); Rory Stokes, Kevin Quinn (0-03), Paul Cunningham.
Subs: Conor Byrne for Cunningham (47), Cillian McDonald for Darcy (51), Craig Maguire for Stone (57), Dave Devereux for Fitzgerald (66), Oisín McGraynor for Byrne (70).
Referee: James Molloy (Galway).