Westmeath are finally off the mark in Division 2 of the National Football League after they scored a surprising one point victory over the previously unbeaten tribesmen in Mullingar. They say it ain’t over til it’s over and that was certainly the case in this tense local derby as it was in the 40th minute of the second half that a point from midfielder Paul Bannon gave the two points to the Midlander’s.
Westmeath manager, Pat Flanagan came in for a lot of criticism in the run up to this game after his side’s disastrous start to the season but on this occasion there were no signs that he had lost the support of his players as they tried extremely hard throughout. Westmeath were boosted by the return of John Heslin to the team after a stint down under trying his hand at Aussie rules. Heslin’s return proved to be the catalyst for this Westmeath victory as he proved to be very reliable from placed balls. Galway played with the wind during the first half but could not make this tell on the scoreboard and one could argue that they were in fact, very lucky to go in at half-time on level terms at 0-6 apiece.
While Heslin kept the scoreboard ticking over for the lake county, Galway proved to be very reliant on their own free-taker Michael Martin to do the most of their scoring during the opening period. Although neither side could raise a green flag during the game, they did manage to create chances. Westmeath corner-forward, Ger Egan blazed wide with the goal at his mercy while for Galway, corner-forward Danny Cummins forced Westmeath goalkeeper, Gary Connaughton into a crucial save at the end of the first half.
Galway had played rather badly in the first half when they were assisted by the strong wind and manager Alan Mulholland introduced Damien Burke at half-time in an attempt to beef up the attack.
The change seemed to work for a while and Galway managed to steal a march on their rivals but they could never get far enough ahead to kill off the game.
With Kieran Gavin absolutely outstanding in the Westmeath defence, the Midlander’s hung on to the coat tails of the westerners and with Heslin banging over seven points they were never out of the game.
Towards the end of the game, Galway came with yet another charge and aided by a point from the returning Sean Armstrong appeared to have a match-winning lead of two points with just three minutes remaining. Westmeath, who had been stung by a lot of criticism within their own county refused to buckle. Substitute, Denis Glennon took the safe option of a point when a goal looked to be on the cards before Heslin’s final point narrowed the game as it ticked into injury time.
Just as it looked as if the two points would be shared, Paul Bannon fired over the late, late winner to give Westmeath a much needed boost in their battle against relegation.