Westmeath produced their best performance in this year's Joe McDonagh Cup and were far from flattered by their five-point winning margin against a disappointing Carlow side in TEG Cusack Park.
Carlow came to Mullingar looking for two semi-miraculous results, one in their own fixture and the other 30 miles away in Navan.
The massive win which Colm Bonnar’s charges needed never looked like materialising and it was the maroon and white-clad men who emerged victorious, undoubtedly regretting two off-colour displays in their opening fixtures against the competition’s worthy finalists, Antrim (away) and Kerry (at home).
Westmeath started the better and led by 0-04 to 0-01 after seven minutes, the best of the home team’s four points coming from teenage corner forward Shane Williams.
However, a fine individual goal from John Michel Nolan levelled the scoring. Carlow led by two points (1-05 to 0-06) when a wonderful run from Robbie Greville teed up Niall Mitchell for a well-taken goal in the 27th minute to edge Westmeath ahead.
Westmeath goalkeeper Eoin Skelly came to his side’s rescue with a great save in the 29th minute from Chris Nolan. The sides equally shared four points in the last five minutes of the first half, and it was Westmeath who led by 1-09 to 1-07 at the interval.
Aonghus Clarke was undoubtedly the best hurler on show in the second moiety, the versatile Castletown-Geoghegan man ending up as top scorer with 0-13.
Chris Nolan halved the deficit from a free within two minutes of the resumption before the same player missed a very scoreable placed ball.
A lovely point from the impressive Cormac Boyle and a brace from Clarke (a long-range free and a great score from play) put Shane O’Brien’s troops into a lead they never looked likely to relinquish, and they were still three points clear (1-13 to 1-10) at the second water break.
Damien Jordan pulled off a great save from Clarke in the 56th minute at the expense of a '65’ which Clarke converted. Kevin McDonald responded with a free for Carlow, but that man Clarke proceeded to score the next six unanswered points, three each from frees and open play.
Skelly produced two more fine saves before the end of the game and a 70th-minute goal from Jon Nolan (who poked the ball home from point-blank range) was merely a consolation score for a very disappointing Carlow side.
Former Railway Cup player, Brendan Murtagh, played for the last quarter and duly chipped in with a point in what was his last game for Westmeath after two decades as a senior player.
He was fittingly applauded off the pitch after the final whistle by his colleagues and team management.
Westmeath: E Skelly; B Doyle, D Egerton, C Shaw; A Craig, T Doyle, A Cox; C Boyle (0-04), R Greville; J Boyle, A Clarke (0-13, 0-06fs, 0-02 ‘65’s), J Galvin (0-01); D Clinton, N Mitchell (1-00), S Williams (0-01).
Subs: L Loughlin (0-01) for Williams (35), B Murtagh (0-01) for Galvin (50), C Kane for Cox (52), E Price for Clinton (55), D McNicholas for Mitchell (65).
Carlow: D Jordan; R Smithers, P Doyle, M Doyle; G Coady, D English, D Byrne; J Kavanagh (0-02), A Amond; JM Nolan (1-00), P Coady, E Byrne (0-01); C Nolan (0-05, 0-02fs), K McDonald (0-04, 0-03fs), J Nolan (1-01).
Subs: J Doyle for C Nolan (43), R Coady for Amond (57),
Ref: T Walsh (Waterford).