Westmeath's Paul Bannon in action against Louth.
Westmeath 1-15 Louth 0-12
A late flurry of scores from an otherwise lethargic Westmeath side secured revenge for their Leinster championship defeat by Louth six weeks earlier, in an incident-packed All-Ireland senior football qualifier first round game in Cusack Park on Saturday evening last.
The old mantra of "a win is a win is a win" was undoubtedly the most-used sentence by many relieved Lake County Gaels in the crowd of 1,700 at around 9pm on Saturday.
In truth, the home side almost contrived to lose a game they looked certain to win at half-time, at which stage Louth were down to 13 men and due to play against the wind. Straight red cards had been issued on the advice of the respective linesmen to Mark Brennan, in the 25th minute (following an off-the-ball clash with the star of the provincial championship clash, John Heslin) and to Darren Clarke, on the stroke of half-time (after he pulled Doron Harte to his feet, clearly claiming that his initial contact with the Westmeath defender had been minimal).
However, Louth, whose spirit was best exemplified by attacking half-back Ray Finnegan, refused to throw in the towel and it took a terrific 65th minute goal from very impressive half-time substitute, Callum McCormack to help drive his side over the line, moments after John Heslin had been dismissed for a second yellow card offence.
An understrength Louth outfit were also short the services of their hospitalised manager Peter Fitzpatrick - selector Gavin Cumiskey wore the bainisteoir's bib on the day - but they came perilously close to pulling off what would have been a sensational win.
Ultimately, however, the men in red and white paid a heavy price for their indiscipline, albeit at least two Westmeath players were very fortunate not to pick up yellow cards in the second half from referee Derek Fahy, who may not be reviled to the extent that his fellow-whistler Martin Sludden is after the infamous events of two years ago, but will not be a popular figure in Louth nonetheless.
Wind-assisted Louth, playing into the scoreboard end of Cusack Park, led by 0-3 to 0-0 at the end of the opening quarter-hour, courtesy of two pointed frees from Darren Clarke and a superb point from play by Aaron Hoey in the 14th minute. For their part, Westmeath looked laboured, with John Heslin struggling to impose himself in midfield just 11 days after keyhole surgery, despite Paddy Keenan's absence for Louth.
The men in maroon and white were level by the 20th minute, Heslin converting a brace of routine frees either side of a neat score from the lively Ger Egan. The latter's Tyrrellspass club-mate, Darren Quinn marked his championship debut in goals with a smart save from Darren Clarke in the 19th minute.
Louth went ahead courtesy of two fine points from Declan Byrne and J.P. Rooney before the stand-side linesman reported Mark Brennan, who was issued with a straight red card by the referee. Despite this, Darren Clarke made it double scores (0-6 to 0-3) in the 27th minute from a free and the same player soon converted another placed ball. John Heslin (a free - moved in for dissent) and Ger Egan (after a quickly-taken free by Doron Harte) reduced the gap approaching half-time.
However, the first moiety ended in drama with the red-carding of Darren Clarke, who continued to protest his innocence en route to the dressing room, with the scoreboard reading: Louth 0-7 Westmeath 0-5.
This two-point lead could have been increased within a minute of the resumption, but an attempt to work a goal from a close-range free backfired and Callum McCormack promptly opened his account at the other end. Three further points ensued via Denis Glennon (a class score from a tight angle), McCormack (a great solo effort) and Heslin (a 45-metre free) and, in truth, it seemed at this juncture that the home team would win with a bit to spare.
Louth reduced the deficit to the bare minimum when Jim McEneaney tapped over a free (after Dessie Finnegan was fouled with a goal on his mind). A high shot from Denis Glennon just had the legs to drop on top of the net for a point and Ger Egan followed up with his third score in the 50th minute.
Remarkably, despite their numerical disadvantage, Louth now took the game to the winners and were full value for drawing level by the 61st minute, courtesy of points from Derek Crilly, Ray Finnegan and Jim McEneaney (a free).
The regularly-intimidated John Heslin then received his marching orders and the game was up for grabs.
However, Callum McCormack soon brought the home fans to their feet when he buried the ball in the Louth net, after taking a great pass from Denis Glennon, who had superbly caught Ger Egan's delivery.
Paul Sharry then came close to adding what would have been a superb individual goal, but he was denied by a great save from Neil Gallagher. However, points followed quickly from James Dolan (who added to the ball in the air from the hard-working Kieran Martin's lineball), Egan, Denis Glennon (a free) and McCormack, with Jim McEneaney's last-gasp attempt to find the net from a free going over the bar for what amounted to a mere consolation score.
While Westmeath players, mentors and fans will be happy to have reversed the recent trend of losing competitive games narrowly to Louth, they will be only too well aware that huge improvement is needed if a serious run is to be made through the 'back door'.
Scorers - Westmeath: C McCormack 1-3, J Heslin (4f) and G Egan 0-4 each, Denis Glennon 0-3 (1f), J Dolan 0-1.
Louth: D Clarke 0-4 (4f), J McEneaney 0-3 (3f), D Byrne, D Crilly, J.P. Rooney, A Hoey and R Finnegan 0-1 each.
Westmeath: Darren Quinn; Mark McCallon, John Gaffey, Kevin Maguire; Doron Harte, Paul Sharry, Daniel McDermott; John Heslin, Paul Bannon; Kieran Martin, David Glennon, Ger Egan; Michael Ennis, James Dolan, Denis Glennon. Subs used: Callum McCormack for McDermott (h/t), Denis Corroon for Ennis (49).
Louth: Neil Gallagher; Padraig Rath, Dessie Finnegan, Gerard Hoey; Ray Finnegan, Michael Fanning, Declan Byrne; Jim McEneaney, Mark Brennan; Adrian Reid, Aaron Hoey, David Reid; Derek Crilly, J.P. Rooney, Darren Clarke. Subs used: Jamie Carr for D. Reid (h/t), David Collier for Hoey (inj., 53), Ruairí Moore for Rooney (57), Danny O'Connor for Fanning (67), David McComish for R. Finnegan (68)
Referee: Derek Fahy (Longford).