The Downs 2-12 Ratoath 0-17
Exactly 50 years after their last AIB Leinster club SFC final appearance, Westmeath's The Downs are back in another provincial decider after a thrilling 2-12 t 0-17 win over Meath champions Ratoath.
Goals from Ciaran Moran and Niall Mitchell, and 0-05 from Tailteann Cup winner Luke Loughlin, secured the 1972 finalists a ticket to this year's decider back at Croke Park on 4 December.
But it was a mighty struggle in the end with the Lake County champions almost blowing a late six-point lead.
The Downs lost attacker Andrew Kilmartin to a second yellow card in the 57th minute, fuelling a comeback which was already underway from Ratoath who struck the game's last five points to get within one.
Ratoath's Jack Flynn had a 67th-minute kick from a free to level it but his effort from an acute angle on the left wing tailed wide and The Downs escaped to victory.
Ratoath came into the contest as slight underdogs though buoyed by their quarter-final win over an ultra-experienced Rhode team, the club's first in the provincial senior championship.
The Downs pounce on a Ratoath mistake in defence as Ciarán Nolan drills home the first goal of the game. Ratoath respond with four points on the spin and the sides are level at the break 1-07 to 0-10— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) November 19, 2022
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They carried that momentum into the opening stages with Eamonn Wallace, best known as a club and county attacker, bursting forward from his new half-back role to stroke over the opening score.
Mitchell tied it up in the fifth minute with a point from a free, setting the tone for a tit-for-tat encounter that was level on six occasions up to 0-06 apiece before The Downs surged clear.
Nolan's 26th-minute goal, a scrappy score that Ratoath will feel they should have cleared, left the Westmeath representatives 1-06 to 0-06 clear and they retained that three-point advantage with a minute of normal time remaining in the half.
Ratoath's response was impressive as they closed out the half with three points in a row from Daithi McGowan to level it up yet again at the interval, 0-10 to 1-07.
McGowan, a starter for Meath in June's All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Clare, showed exceptional leadership with two of those scores from long range.
McGowan's Meath colleague Joey Wallace was absent due to a cruciate knee ligament injury, robbing him of the opportunity to punish The Downs manager Lar Wall again. Wall was in charge of Gaeil Colmcille when Wallace starred for Ratoath against them in the 2020 Meath final, scoring 1-03 that day.
Ratoath's Jack Flynn was involved in two first-half goal chances, wincing as his 16th minute shot was deflected away by goalkeeper Trevor Martin and then, six minutes later, clearing off his own line when he foiled Loughlin.
The Downs pushed hard for a second goal during a strong third quarter and duly delivered in the 42nd minute when Mitchell pounced. They put together a clever hand-passing move down the right which ended with Kevin O'Sullivan picking out Mitchell from the right endline and the dual star poked home from close range.
That score put them four clear for the first time and when Andrew Kilmartin curled over a 45th minute point, arguably the score of the game, they were five to the good with a 2-10 to 0-11 advantage.
The Downs were six points clear with 53 minutes on the clock and apparently on course for a comfortable win.
But the dismissal rocked them and Ratoath took full advantage in the closing stages, reeling off scores from Wallace, Flynn, Daithi McGowan and Bryan McMahon to take it right to the wire – but they couldn't force extra-time.
The Downs: Trevor Martin; Peter Murray, Eanna Burke (0-01), Darragh Egerton; Joseph Moran; Conor Coughlan (0-01), Mark Kelly, Jonathan Lynam (0-01); Charlie Drumm, Ciaran Nolan (1-00); Andrew Kilmartin (0-02), Kevin O'Sullivan, Ian Martin (0-01); Niall Mitchell (1-01, 0-01f), Luke Loughlin (0-05, 0-02fs).
Subs: Dean Clarke for Drumm (30+2-ht, blood), Tom Tuite for Martin (53), Liam Moran for O'Sullivan (60), Dean Clarke for Drumm (61), Dean Egerton for Kelly (64).
Ratoath: Darragh McPartlin; Ben Wyer, Conor McGill, Ciaran O Fearraigh; Eamonn Wallace (0-02), Gavin McGowan, Brian Daly; Ben McGowan, Cian O'Brien; Keith McCabe (0-01), Daithi McGowan (0-06, 0-03fs), Jack Flynn (0-02, 0-01 45); Bryan McMahon (0-02), Cian Rogers (0-02), Bobby O'Brien (0-01).
Subs: Liam Kelly for O Fearraigh (24-30, blood), Conor Rooney (0-01) for McCabe (42), Padraic Byrne for Rogers (53), Andrew Gerrard for Gavin McGowan (55), Brian O'Connor for Cian O'Brien (58).
Ref: Barry Tiernan (Dublin).