Westmeath claimed promotion to Division one for the first time in 33 years after a two point victory over Kerry, played out in freezing conditions in Cusack Park, Ennis.
Big games separate the good from the great and Killian Doyle delivered a vintage performance, in what was a huge game for both teamsin Division 2A.
Westmeath will operate in the top tier in 2020 in what will be a huge boost for hurling in the Lake County.
Kerry played with a very strong wind in the opening half and held a five-point lead at the break, although Fintan O’Connor’s side may have wanted to be further ahead at the interval as the wind was of huge advantage to the Munster side.
It was Westmeath who opened the scoring courtesy of a free from Clonkill’s Niall Mitchell. A further score from Killian Doyle doubled his side’s advantage and gave Westmeath an early lead.
Referee Rory McGann picked up an injury in the first half and Nathan Wall stepped into to referee the game from the 19th minute onwards.
Kerry would register the next four points though, three of which came from talisman Shane Conway and the other a magnificent side-line cut from Jack Goulding.
Mitchell responded with a free for Westmeath to narrow the gap to one, but an excellent effort from Daniel Collins restored his side’s advantages before a close range point from Shane Conway stretched his side’s lead to three.
Mitchell again stepped up with a free for Westmeath, but three successive Kerry scores from Shane Conway (2) and Padraig Boyle gave the Kingdom a 0-09 to 0-04 lead at half time.
Darragh Clinton opened the second-half scoring with a point to reduce the gap to four and Kerry set up ultra-defensively in hope of holding out for the win.
Padraig Boyle and Allan Devine traded scores as Westmeath selector Shane O’Brien was sent to the stands after a second half-incident.
An outstanding score from Killian Doyle left three points in it, with a significant wind advantage with Westmeath.
The excellent Doyle added another point to bring the gap down to two, with Westmeath pushing right up on their Munster counterparts.
A long-range placed ball effort from Doyle left the minimum between the teams and the tension in the ground was huge with so much at stake.
Another master score from Doyle levelled proceedings with the Raharney native delivering an exhibition.
Derek McNicholas gave Westmeath the lead for the first time in the second half and there was only going to be winner from this stage onwards, with snowy conditions hitting the final stages of this match.
Westmeath held out for a two-point victory and Joe Quaid’s side were deserving champions having won all six of their league games, in addition to lifting the Keogh Cup in January.
Westmeath: Aaron McHugh; Darragh Egerton, Tommy Doyle, Gary Greville; Aonghus Clarke, Paul Greville, Conor Shaw; Cormac Boyle, Shane Clavin; Joey Boyle, Killian Doyle (0-06, 2f), Robbie Greville; Allan Devine (0-01, 1f), Darragh Clinton (0-01), Niall Mitchell (0-03, 3f).
Subs: Derek McNicholas (0-01) for Mitchell (44), Jack Galvin for Clinton (52), Aaron Craig for P Greville (67), Ciaran Doyle for J Boyle (72)
Kerry: John B. O’Halloran; Sean Weir, Bryan Murphy, James O’Connor; Paud Costello, Jason Diggins, Fionan Mackessy; Daniel Collins (0-01), Brandon Barrett; Michael O’Leary, Shane Conway (0-06, 4f), Padraig Boyle (0-02); Jack Goulding (0-01, 1 s/l), Michael Boyle, Jordan Conway.
Subs: Dan Goggin for M Boyle (50), Tomas O’Connor for Costello (62), Daithi Griffin for J Conway (66), John Buckley for Weir (72)
Referee: Rory McGann (Clare)