A strong second half from Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday ensured that Westmeath will compete in Division 3 of the Allianz FL for 2022.
Three goals from the Rebels finally put paid to a stiff Lake County challenge, with the away team having led by 0-10 to 0-06 at the first-half water-break and 0-14 to 0-12 at half-time.
Even then, when a goal from Cork sub Mark Collins put Ronan McCarthy's side into a 1-14 to 0-15 lead in the 40th minute – the first time they had led since the sixth minute – Westmeath came back again and points from Ronan O’Toole, Ger Egan and Lorcan Dolan had them in front for what would prove to be the final time.
That first Cork goal had been inspired by a lovely pass from deep from Luke Connolly to Brian Hurley, who in turn fed Collins, and it was Connolly who profited from a rampaging Ian Maguire run to fist to the net for the second on 45.
Again, the concession wasn’t enough to cow Westmeath into submission and, though trailing by 2-17 to 0-19 at the second-half water-break, they gave themselves hope on the restart with a pair of frees from John Heslin, who finished with 12 points to his name.
After a point from Cork sub Brian Hartnett, the game was effectively decided on a pair of goal opportunities. Westmeath’s was not taken as sub Sam McCartan fired just over following a pass from Fola Ayorinde, while Cork’s was as Brian Hurley finished to the net when Kevin O’Donovan found him with a lovely pass.
It left Cork 3-18 to 0-22 in front and unlikely to be caught. In the fourth of the six minutes of announced injury time, they were seven in front but, after a pointed Heslin free, referee Cormac Reilly blew for the end of the game.
After Westmeath protests and conferring with his officials, Reilly allowed the match to continue but it was merely a stay of execution for Westmeath, who had done so well in the first half.
A burst of four unanswered points put them 0-06 to 0-03 in front by the ninth minute as Cork failed to apply sufficient pressure on ball-carriers, and though the hosts came out strongly after the first water-break to level at 0-11 each, Heslin and the excellent Ray Connellan put Westmeath back in front.
They almost moved five clear as McCartan had a goal effort which hit the post, but had to content going in two clear. Unfortunately for them, it proved not to be enough as Cork responded well in the second half.
Cork: Michéal Martin; Kevin O’Donovan, Seán Meehan, Kevin Flahive; Seán White (0-01), Mattie Taylor, Cian Kiely; Ian Maguire, Paul Walsh (0-02); John O’Rourke (0-01), Ruairí Deane (0-01), Kevin O’Driscoll; Daniel Dineen (0-03, 0-01m), Luke Connolly (1-04, 0-04f), Cathail O’Mahony (0-03).
Subs: Mark Collins (1-01, 0-01 free) for O’Rourke (31, injured), Brian Hurley (1-04, 0-01f) for O’Mahony (35, injured), Tadhg Corkery for Kiely, Brian Hartnett (0-01) for Deane (both 53), Eoghan McSweeney for White, Damien Gore for Connolly (both 61), Colm O’Callaghan (0-01) for O’Donovan (70).
Westmeath: Jason Daly; Jack Smith, Kevin Maguire, Boidu Sayeh; James Dolan, Ronan Wallace, Jamie Gonoud; Denis Corroon, Sam Duncan; Ray Connellan (0-03), David Lynch, Ger Egan (0-03); Ronan O’Toole (0-03), John Heslin (0-12, 0-08f, 0-01m), Lorcan Dolan (0-03).
Subs: Sam McCartan (0-01) for Smith (25, injured), Darren Giles for Connellan (41, injured), Fola Ayorinde for Duncan, Noel Mulligan for Gonoud (both 51), Nigel Harte for Lynch (62), Sam Maxwell for Dolan (67).
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath)