Derry 1-18 Westmeath 0-15: Sometimes winning and losing only contains traces of emotion when victory in the more purposeful sense is already achieved – although this result appeared to have a more profound impact.
Derry manager Brian McIver described it as a great game to win, because it would have been a horrible game to lose. No surprise then how Westmeath manager Pat Flanagan felt about it – especially after his team conceded the decisive 1-3 in injury time.
So it goes with the Division Two final of the Allianz Football League: with the unmistakable sniff of summer in the air a timely reminder that the championship is just beyond the horizon, winning in the here and now matters, as does the consequences of losing. Both teams were already looking forward to Division One football next year, but 2014 seems a long way off now, doesn’t it?
It was a result too that, not unexpectedly, could have gone either way, and indeed it went right down to the wire. With the teams tied at 15 points as the clock spilled into the four minutes injury time, Derry then landed the killer combination of 1-3 that finally floored Westmeath, with no time to recover.
McIver joked, rightly so, about the astuteness of his substitutions, which saw Emmet McGuckin claim 1-1 of that decisive scoring, and Ciarán McFaul adding 0-1. On other days, McIver agreed, you make changes that don't work, although that didn't disguise his praise for both players.
McGuckin’s goal was effectively called twice, as Gary Connaughton did get his paws on the initial shot, although the ball did cross the line anyway, before McGuckin made sure with the rebounded effort.
Ultimately tipping the game in Derry’s favour however was midfielder Ryan Bell, who fired over a brilliant point on 70 minutes that gave them the momentum to close out the deal. The 19-year-old Bell lorded midfield all afternoon, particularly in the second half, and proved the engine room of a team well balanced throughout.
It was, given the security of promotion, a naturally freewheeling game, always going to be about the performance as much as the result, and the not insignificant practice of playing in Croke Park.
Derry set the pace early on, opening a four-point advantage before Westmeath could find their feet, or indeed get much of a hold on the ball.
Eoin Bradley was most prominent, proving a real handful for the Westmeath defence, and struck a point and a free, while Ball and Seán McGoldrick hit one each. Westmeath, starved of possession, were surviving on the brief counter-attack – resulting in an impressive point for Ger Egan on 15 minutes, but not yet enough to get them any grip on Derry.
Then things got more interesting: four points, two from John Heslin, and two from Callum McCormack, reduced the deficit back to the minimum.
Suddenly, Derry were the ones on the back foot, and rolling with momentum, Westmeath soon levelled it up, in the 28th minute, the equaliser coming from the boot of Ger Egan.
Inevitably then Westmeath pressed ahead. Heslin's cool free put them in front, and the two points that followed were pure gems – Ger Egan rifling a shot straight between the posts, before Denis Glennon chipped in on the half hour with his first point, a sweet strike from a narrow angle on the far left.
Still time, however, for Derry to recover before the break. James Kielt broke free to hit their first point in 12 minutes, followed in quick succession by Raymond Wilkinson and another from Kielt. So it was all square again – 0-10 apiece - as they headed for interval.
Goal chances, so few early on, eventually materialised, Derry substitute Coilin Devlin (on for the injured Wilkinson) just missing from close range, although Daniel Heavron converted the resulting 45.
At the other end, Dessie Dolan – introduced after 52 minutes – also found himself in front of goal, but couldn't quite keep his shot low enough, and it went over for the equaliser.
Dolan struck two more points, but all the while the narrowness of game suggested that only a goal would ensure the winning of it – and so McGuckin's bold shot proved.
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, 0-1 free); D Heavron (0-1), J Kielt (0-4), E Lynn (0-1); B Heron (0-1, 45), E Bradley (0-4, 0-2 frees), R Wilkinson (0-1). Subs: C Devlin for Wilkinson (43 mins); C McFaul (0-1) for Heavron (56 mins); E McGuckin (1-1) for E Bradley (56 mins); L Kennedy for Heron (73 mins).
Westmeath: G Connaughton; M McCallon, J Gaffney, K Maguire; D Harte, P Sharry, J Dolan; D Duffy, J Heslin (0-5, 0-4 frees); 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 (22 mins); K Gavin for McCallon (67 mins); Damien Dolan for Corroon (69 mins); L Smith for Curley (73 mins).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)