A storming finale that included a crucial goal from dual star Luke Loughlin secured victory for Westmeath at the third time of asking in the Joe McDonagh Cup.

With both teams pointless after two games beforehand, pride was all that was at stake as a top two finish and qualification for the final was impossible.

It looked for long spells like Meath would prevail and secure what would have been their very first win in the competition having lost all of their seven previous McDonagh Cup games.

But the 54th minute straight red card dismissal of Jack Regan for the Royals, when the score was tied at 1-15 apiece, gave Westmeath a vital edge and they took full advantage.

The beaten 2018 and 2019 finalists outscored Meath by 1-05 to 0-04 from there on with Loughlin's 72nd minute goal the killer score.

Loughlin lined out against Dublin in Westmeath's recent Leinster SFC defeat and was the first sub introduced here, latching onto goalkeeper Eoin Skelly's stoppage-time clearance to grab the vital goal.

The ball just about trickled over the line after an initial block from Charlie Ennis, who'd come on as Meath's goalkeeper for the injured Mark McCormack.

Ultra experienced Aonghus Clarke closed out the scoring with back-to-back Westmeath points, taking his tally to 0-09 for the afternoon.

That haul included two important scores from play from the Castletown Geoghegan man that helped them fight back to level terms midway through the second half.

Dual star Luke Loughlin grabbed the crucial late goal

They'll wrap up their campaign with a home game against Carlow next weekend while Meath will host Antrim in Navan.

The lead swung in both directions throughout an entertaining first half with Meath generally on top though Shane Williams's 12th minute goal for Westmeath ensured they were never far off.

Meath were 0-05 to 0-02 ahead when Lough Lene Gaels man Williams roofed a shot to the net from close range, tying it up for the second time.

They were level again at 0-07 to 0-04 but Jack Regan put Meath ahead just before the first water break and the hosts retained that lead from there on.

Meath outscored Westmeath by 1-04 to 0-04 from the water break until half time with Walsh netting in the 27th minute.

From the neighbouring Navan O'Mahony's club, Walsh got the slightest of touches to a long ball in from Padraic O'Hanrahan and wheeled away in celebration.

That left Meath five points clear and Regan and Stephen Morris added scores but Westmeath points from Cormac Boyle, Clarke and Niall Mitchell left four between them at the interval.

O'Hanrahan put Meath five clear early in the second half but that was as good as it got for the side managed by Westmeath man Nick Weir.

Cormac Boyle, Joey Boyle and Clarke were all to the fore as they surged back into the game before eventually drawing level in the 52nd minute.

Meath lost Regan shortly after and Westmeath dominated the final 20 minutes or so to secure a morale-boosting win.

Westmeath: Eoin Skelly; Conor Shaw, Brendan Doyle, Darragh Egerton; Aaron Craig, Tommy Doyle, Alan Cox (0-01); Cormac Boyle (0-03), Robbie Greville (0-01); Aonghus Clarke (0-09, 0-07f), Joey Boyle (0-03), Jack Galvin; Shane Williams (1-00), Niall Mitchell (0-02), Darragh Clinton (0-01).

Subs used: Luke Loughlin (1-00) for Galvin (26), Derek McNicholas for Clinton (51), Brendan Murtagh for Williams (63), Eoghan Ahearn for Mitchell (68), Conor Kane for B Doyle (75).

Meath: Mark McCormack; Mickey Burke, Shane Brennan, Sean Geraghty; Keith Keoghan (0-01), Darragh Kelly, Shane Whitty; Padraic O'Hanrahan (0-08, 0-08f), Patrick Connelly; Jack Regan (0-03, 0-02f), Stephen Morris (0-01), Alan Douglas (0-01); Adam Gannon (0-03), Cathal McCabe, Jack Walsh (1-02).

Subs used: James Kelly for McCabe (ht), Daithi McGowan for Gannon (45), Damien Healy for Douglas (59), Mark Molloy for Conneely (59), Charlie Ennis for McCormack (62).

Referee: Rory McGann (Clare).