Champions Derry now turn their focus on Down
Derry 1-18 Westmeath 0-15: Derry came home on Sunday night with a national title, their first in five years, but just as important was a further boost to morale ahead of the championship clash with Down in June.
The Oak Leafers have gone unbeaten since their late surge against Galway on the opening day of the Division Two campaign just fell short, and they finished off the campaign with a similar late burst to see off Westmeath in Croke Park.
Derry manager Brian McIver was delighted to have left headquarters with victory in a game that Derry dominated in the opening quarter, but could just have easily as lost in the end, only for Emmett McGuckin's injury-time goal to finally kill the challenge of Pat Flanagan's side.
"As I said to the lads there, that was a great game to win, and it would have been an absolutely horrible game to have lost. I thought over the course of the game we were just about the better side but we couldn't seem to get away from Westmeath. We got the wee break near the end and I thought we just about deserved it on the day," said McIver.
With James McCartan's Mournemen enduring relegation from Division One, losing three players including Paul McComiskey and having to come to Celtic Park, the early signs are pointing in the direction of an upset.
While McIver was delighted to have garnered victory on Sunday, courtesy largely of the midfield domination of man-of-the-match Patsy Bradley and the exceptionally gifted 19-year-old Ryan Bell, the Derry manager was keen to play up Down's greater experience of the big occasion.
"In terms of morale, it's great. But we also know that come June 2, what happened here on April 28 will count for absolutely nothing," he said. "Down have been a Division One side for the last three years, they were in an All-Ireland final three years ago, and we can't buy that level of experience. But I know these lads are bouncing in terms of the way they're playing."
Derry raced into an early 0-6 to 0-1 lead against the breeze, with Eoin Bradley giving Kevin Maguire a torrid time early on. But Westmeath dropped Ger Egan back to sweep and it turned the game, with the Leinstermen recovering to lead 0-10 to 0-7 five minutes from half-time.
Two James Kielt efforts and a point from Raymond Wilkinson, who left the field on a stretcher and was last night undergoing a X-ray for a serious leg injury, left the sides level at 0-10 apiece the break.
Wilkinson's injury took the sting out of the second half, though both sides had goal chances as they went point for point until the death.
Ryan Bell put Derry ahead on the 70-minute mark and James Kielt doubled the lead before sub Emmett McGuckin challenged Gary Connaughton under a high ball and finished from a tight angle when the Westmeath keeper scraped the first effort off the line.
That sealed the victory for Derry, though the scoreline was harsh on Westmeath, who meet Carlow in their Leinster championship opener, potentially setting up a clash with Dublin.
Derry's eyes are firmly on Down now.
Derry: E McNicholl; A McAlynn, C McKaigue, G O'Kane (0-1); C Kielt, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick (0-1); P Bradley, R Bell (0-2, 0-1f); D Heavron (0-1), J Kielt (0-4), E Lynn (0-1); B Heron (0-1 45'), E Bradley (0-4, 0-2f), R Wilkinson (0-1). Subs: C Devlin for Wilkinson (41), E McGuckin (1-1) for E Bradley (57), C McFaul (0-1) for Heavron (57), L Kennedy for Heron (73)
Westmeath: G Connaughton; M McCallon, J Gaffey, K Maguire; D Harte, P Sharry, J Dolan; D Duffy, J Heslin (0-5, 0-4f); G Egan (0-2), C McCormack (0-2), K Martin; D Corroon, C Curley (0-1), D Glennon (0-2)
Subs: Dessie Dolan (0-3) for Martin (66), K Gavin for McCallon (66), Damian Dolan for Corroon (69), L Smith for Curley (72)
Referee: C Lane (Cork).