Westmeath 3-19 Meath 2-18
Westmeath produced a stunning second-half display to record their first ever championship victory over Meath in a 3-19 to 2-18 comeback win in the Leinster Football Championship semi-finals at Croke Park.
Meath were eight points up at half-time - 2-12 to 1-07 - and cruising thanks to two goals in a minute from Brian McMahon and a pacy forward line that were too hot for Westmeath to handle.
But the Lake County rallied superbly after the break, outscoring their neighbours by 2-08 to a single point in the closing 20 minutes, as the outstanding duo of Kieran Martin and John Heslin scored the goals to seal a historic win.
Westmeath finished with their highest ever championship score, while Meath ended with 14 men as goalkeeper Paddy O’Rourke was sent off in injury-time.
Meath had set the tone from the throw-in with Stephen Bray firing over their first point after just 30 seconds.
They eased 0-05 to 0-01 ahead after ten minutes thanks to scores from Graham Reilly, McMahon and Eamon Wallace, who was a late replacement for Mickey Newman in the starting line-up.
Westmeath’s defenders couldn’t handle the speed of the Royals’ attack, who were being afforded far too much space, and by the time Heslin scored his team’s second point of the day in the 23rd minute the gap between the sides was six points.
Meath were dominating but Martin gave his side a lifeline when he roamed forward and collected a handpass from Heslin to blast to the net.
That only seemed to spur Meath into action, however, as McMahon fired two goals inside a minute to put them 2-09 to 1-03 up after 27 minutes.
Corner-back Killian Daly was badly caught out for the first goal, letting the ball bounce over his head as McMahon cut in from the left to send a near-post finish past Darren Quinn.
McMahon repeated the trick a minute later, followed by Reilly and Wallace (0-04 each from play on the day) adding points and though Martin and Heslin responded, Westmeath looked dead and buried at the interval, trailing by eight.
Meath remained the sharper side on the resumption, recovering from the loss of the influential Reilly to what looked a harsh black card for a trip to lead by 2-17 to 1-11 in the 50th minute.
But Westmeath regained some hope when Martin, who had been switched to full-forward at half-time, collected an incisive hand pass from substitute Denis Glennon and sent a composed low finish into the net for his second goal.
Points from Heslin and a free off the ground from Paul Sharry had the Westmeath fans suddenly believing in the impossible and they found their voice as further scores from Ray Connellan and Heslin, off a cleverly worked short-free routine, cut the gap to just two points.
Meath were wilting, and though sub Mickey Newman stretched their advantage in the 60th minute, it was to be their final score of the game.
Donncha Tobin was shown a black card for pulling down John Connellan, who scored two points off the bench, and frees from Heslin made it a one-point game with five minutes to play.
Newman then shot straight at Quinn when a point might have been the wiser option before man-of-the-match Martin produced two brilliant points to edge Westmeath ahead.
Twice in quick succession, the Maryland man picked up possession in the corner with little in the way of options, but barrelled his way down the endline and fisted over.
Westmeath were now in front for the first time as the atmosphere in Croke Park reached a crescendo, the prospect of that long-awaited win tantalisingly close.
As the clock ticked into injury-time, Meath broke forward in numbers and should have at least equalised but they over-elaborated and McMahon was bottled up.
Westmeath responded to that let-off by counter-attacking themselves and Heslin kept his cool to bury the ball past O’Rourke, celebrating with full knowledge of what the goal meant.
O’Rourke was shown a straight red just before the end, for following through on Martin after clearing the ball, and though Heslin missed the resulting free no one in maroon gave a fiddler’s.
The final whistle blew and Westmeath had finally beaten Meath in the championship, in their 23rd attempt. What a way to do it.
Meath: P O'Rourke; J McEntee, C McGill, D Tobin; M Burke, D Keogan (C), B Menton (0-01); H Rooney, K Reilly; G Reilly (0-04), P Harnan, A Tormey (0-02f); E Wallace (0-04), S Bray (0-03); B McMahon (2-02).
Subs: A Flanagan for Rooney (45), D Dalton for Burke (45), M Newman (0-02, 1f) for Reilly (BC 46), J Wallace for Tobin (BC 61).
Westmeath: D Quinn; K Daly, K Maguire, J Gilligan; P Holloway, K Martin (2-03), J Dolan; P Sharry (0-02f), D Daly; R Connellan (0-01), G Egan, D Corroon; L Smyth, J Heslin (1-09, 5f) , S Dempsey (0-02).
Subs: J Gonoud for K Daly (29), J Connellan (0-02) for D Daly (29), D Lynch for G Egan (h-t), D Glennon for Dempsey (38), P Greville for Gilligan (60), J Egan for Corroon.
Referee: C Lane (Cork)