Westmeath's promotion hopes were dealt a severe blow in cold but pleasant conditions at TEG Cusack Park as relegation-threatened Longford deservedly won the midlands derby by an unflattering four-point margin.
Debutant Jack Duggan set up Longford’s marquee player Mickey Quinn, whose participation was in doubt right up to the 11th hour, for a goal chance in the fourth minute, but Jason Daly pulled off a fine save.
Alex Gardiner nudged Westmeath ahead in the eighth minute before the respective number 9s, the outstanding Darren Gallagher and Jonathan Lynam, traded points.
John Heslin untypically missed two good chances, including a free, but points from Sam McCartan, Heslin and Lorcan Dolan put the home team ahead by 0-5 to 0-1 with 17 minutes on the clock.
Wind-assisted Longford responded with a couple of fine frees by Gallagher before Joseph Hagan’s low-trajectory shot in the 25th minute was superbly saved by Daly at the expense of a point.
A great point from Gardiner on the half-hour mark was the highlight of the second quarter, but Longford availed of several turnovers to finish the half strongly. Late points from Dylan Farrell (a free) and Hagan (his third of the contest) put the visitors ahead by 0-08 to 0-07 at the end of an error-ridden first half.
Senan Baker, the 18-year-old son Clare hurling legend Ollie, was one of two half-time subs introduced by Jack Cooney, but the youngster was off target with a few efforts.
Nigel Harte equalised a mere 15 seconds after play resumed. Three minutes later, Westmeath spurned a great opportunity of a goal when Dolan was fouled in the large parallelogram, but Heslin’s weak penalty was saved by Paddy Collum.
Heslin soon compensated with a great point, but the Lake County men were not to score for another half an hour as Longford took control.
The visitors went on to rifle over six unanswered points via Hagan (a mark), Duggan (a free), Jayson Matthews, Farrell (a free), Keelin McGann (a great score under pressure), and corner back Patrick Fox.
Duggan and Heslin were denied goals at either end by great blocks from Daly and Barry O’Farrell respectively midway through the half, but Westmeath’s lot was sealed when David Lynch was red-carded in the 63rd minute.
Indeed, Westmeath ended the game with 13 players when sub Kieran Martin was black-carded in added-time.
Sub TJ Cox rounded off the scoring with a late point, but it was Billy O’Loughlin’s charges who deservedly won the day to ease their relegation worries.
Longford: P Collum; P Fox (0-01), A Farrell, B O'Farrell; J Moran, E McCormack, I O’Sullivan; R Moffett, D Gallagher (0-03, 0-02 frees); J Hagan (0-04, 0-01 mark), D Farrell (0-02, 0-02 frees), M Quinn; J Matthews (0-02), M Hughes, J Duggan (0-01, 0-01 free).
Subs: K McGann (0-01) for Moffett (43), A McGuire for Hughes (47), O Kenny for Matthews (64), D Doherty for Duggan (66), K Diffly for Gallagher (69).
Westmeath: J Daly; J Smith, K Maguire, D Giles; N Harte (0-01), R Wallace, S McCartan (0-01); S Duncan, J Lynam (0-01); D Lynch, R O’Toole (0-01), L Dolan (0-01); L Loughlin, J Heslin (0-02), A Gardiner (0-02).
Subs: S Baker for Loughlin (h-t), S Allen for Giles (h-t), K Martin for Dolan (51), TJ Cox (0-01) for Gardiner (60), R Forde for O’Toole (69).
Referee: B Tiernan (Dublin)