Dublin have too much in the locker for Westmeath
They have yet to hit their stride but Jim Gavin’s side are 1/100 favourites for a reason
Jim Gavin may choose to partner James McCarthy with Brian Fenton in midfield. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Leinster SFC semi-final
Dublin v Westmeath, Croke Park, Sunday, 4.0
The bells are tolling even softly for Dublin. Injury and suspensions befalling key players have been pitfalls Jim Gavin has managed to avoid in his four years to date and if he can hardly be held accountable for misfortune, he has largely managed to avoid that as well since 2013.
These problems plus the ageing process have left the champions looking somewhat jaded, despite the strategic efforts to rest players and get them peaking later in the year. Although Carlow gave an unexpectedly dogged display in Portlaoise there was a lack of pizzazz about the champions’ attempts to unhinge them.
There is sufficient experience and quality at the back but the front eight are struggling. Brian Fenton’s finding his third album more difficult than the second and although he’s well capable of recovery, finding a partner for him with Michael Darragh Macauley injured hasn’t been easy, especially as Paul Flynn, who was effective there in last year’s All-Ireland replay, hasn’t been around much either. James McCarthy could be worth a run, as he has proved himself an accomplished centrefielder.
It’s in attack that the biggest problems lie with players who have given long service beginning to experience metal fatigue and for a variety of reasons, younger options haven’t been able to push their claims.
None of this is likely to affect Sunday’s contest, as Westmeath have shown over the past two years an admirable capacity to dig in against Dublin without threatening the outcome. This year has so far been a decent one for Tom Cribbin’s team. Promotion and a divisional title - incorporating a trip to Croke Park - have been followed by an eventually convincing win against Offaly but one that was glossed a little unrepresentatively a powerful last quarter in the replay.
Cribbin is comfortable with defensive alignments but with enough tactical flexibility to change shape when the contest demands. He has some players in fine form. John Heslin, Kieran Martin and John Egan showed well last week, as did Callum McCormack, who’s now one of Cribbin’s injury doubts.
There has been endless speculation all week as to whether Westmeath go defensive again or give it a lash. But the problem has always been that the effort of restricting Dublin and getting up the field to register enough scores to keep pace with their opponents eventually wears out the team, so that mistakes and poor decision making start to undermine the collective effort and then Dublin are gone.
Last meeting: 2016 Leinster final, Croke Park, Dublin 2-19, Westmeath 0-10
Odds: Dublin 1/100, Westmeath 18/1, Draw 33/1.
Just the ticket: Stands €25, Hill 16 Terrace €20. Juveniles €5. Concessions available (except in Hogan Stand and on Hill).