Mayo were made to fight all the way before overcoming a plucky Westmeath outfit in a very entertaining contest played in showery conditions in Mullingar.
Westmeath got off to a dream start when an alert Luke Loughlin goaled in the second minute after Ronan O'Toole’s point attempt had come back off the upright.
The home team looked the better side in the early exchanges but Mayo were on level terms (0-04 to 1-01) by the first water break, their points coming from Eoghan McLaughlin, Paddy Durcan (a fine solo effort), Conor Loftus and Cillian O’Connor (a free which looked perilously close to being a penalty award under the new rules).
A terrific brace of points from Matthew Ruane edged James Horan’s charges ahead before Ger Egan halved the deficit in style. Mayo still led by a point (0-07 to 1-03) when a great Westmeath counterattack in the 27th minute ended with Ronan Wallace being fouled close to goal.
Diarmuid O’Connor was black-carded and John Heslin superbly netted from the ensuing spot kick. The sides were on level terms with 35 minutes elapsed, but a great move from Jack Cooney’s men saw Heslin open his account from play with the last kick of the first half. At the break, Westmeath deservedly led by 2-05 to 0-10.
The respective number 13s, Ronan O’Toole (a mark) and Tommy Conroy, traded points at the start of the second half. Scores were at a premium during the remainder of the third quarter with two points from O’Connor frees leaving the Connacht champions ahead by 0-13 to 2-06 by the second water break.
Mayo brought on some high-powered subs as the second half progressed as they found it difficult to shake off the home team. A couple of surging runs from experienced centre half back Paddy Durcan inspired Mayo, while O’Connor was faultless from placed balls.
Mayo’s lead was four points (0-17 to 2-07) before Loughlin kicked two outstanding '45’s to halve the deficit, the first of these coming after sub Brandon Kelly had been denied a goal by Rob Hennelly.
There was just a point in it (0-19 to 2-12) with 70 minutes elapsed, but an injury-time brace from O’Connor (including his only score from open play), either side of Ray Connellan being black-carded, ensured a hard-earned three-point win for Mayo.
Mayo: R Hennelly; B Doyle, O Mullin, L Keegan; M Plunkett, P Durcan (0-02), E McLaughlin (0-01); M Ruane (0-03), D O’Connor; F McDonagh, C Loftus (0-02), J Flynn (0-01); T Conroy (0-01), C O’Connor (0-08, 0-07f), R O’Donoghue (0-01, 0-01 mark).
Subs: K McLoughlin (0-01) for Flynn (half-time), B Walsh (0-01) for McDonagh (half-time), C Boyle for Doyle (half-time), J Carr for Loftus (52), R Brickenden for McLaughlin (59), J Carney for D O’Connor (69).
Westmeath: J Daly; J Dolan, K Maguire, B Sayeh; D Lynch, R Wallace, J Gonoud; S Duncan, R Connellan (0-01); S McCartan, R O’Toole (0-01, 0-01 mark), D Corroon; G Egan (0-01), J Heslin (1-06, 1-00pen, 0-04f), L Loughlin (1-02, 0-02‘45’s).
Subs: F Ayorinde for Corroon (45), B Kelly for Duncan (52), C Slevin for Lynch (63), K Martin (0-01) for McCartan (66), T McDaniel for Egan (69).
Referee: N Mooney (Cavan).