Six in a row for Dublin as Westmeath fall away in second half

Brave first half effort but fitness levels and quality of the hosts echoes around Croker

Dublin 2-19 Westmeath 0-10

Plenty to see here, just very little to learn. Westmeath initially held pace better than their 2015 attempt but after departing for an internal roasting at half-time - leading just 0-7 to 0-6 - Dublin reappeared with accuracy and renewed energy to confirm the sorry state of the Leinster football championship.

The second period scoring read 2-12 to 0-4. Paddy Andrews's arrival for Eric Lowndes, a half forward for a wing back, mattered. So did every moment Bernard Brogan got the ball with his back to the posts.

“It might not be of solace to you today but we took this threat very seriously,” Stephen Cluxton told Westmeath from his perennial perch in the Hogan stand with the Delaney Cup.


But even during these non-competitive provincial football days titbits can be gathered.

Lesson one: The 2014 Donegal blueprint to somehow beat Dublin remains in existence but is completely ineffectual without goals. For all the talk about Rory O'Carroll leaving a void on the square's edge, Dublin have been coping. John Heslin and Kieran Martin were impressive under sparse high balls but the end product lacked the essential ruthlessness needed to hurt the regenerating champions defence.

Now, imagine the damage Aidan O’Shea or Michael Murphy could do to Dublin in an All-Ireland quarter-final. Aerial bombardment remains a potential achilles heel simply because Philly McMahon and Johnny Cooper will not grow any taller come August.

Even around the middle Ray Connellan gathered plenty of valuable possession until crashing heavily to fracture his ankle just before the interval.

“The motto is to stick to our game plan no matter what happens,” Cian O’Sullivan said afterwards.

Of course they altered their approach dramatically after half-time with up to eight forwards pushing up on the Westmeath defence.

What is apparent from this historic capturing of Leinster title number 55 - and a record equalling sixth in succession - was how badly they missed the pace and attacking instincts of Jack McCaffrey and penetrating carries of the long fellow, James McCarthy.

McCarthy suffered a quad injury last Wednesday but should return soon.

Lesson two (hardly new but pertinent nonetheless): Clog the middle and Dublin can beat you from the wings. Make that Brogan can beat you on his own. It was the former footballer of the year’s 0-3 from the edges, and a beauty by Kevin McManamon, early in the second half that made the maroon clutter largely irrelevant.

That and a misfiring Heslin, three wides at crucial moments on a day when their main sharpshooter needed to be flawless, saw Dublin glide away. All but guaranteed Dean Rock frees, mostly from the right hand side, quickly made it a double score deficit.

There is another way to hurt Dublin that Donegal, again, almost perfected way back in 2011. Disrespect Diarmuid Connolly into retaliation. A few minutes before James Dolan rustled Connolly's hair during a break in play, the Dublin vice-captain appeared to be appealing to the linesman for protection following an off the ball incident.

"Look, Diarmuid's a fabulous player and he can get a bit excited at times and probably we were looking for him," admitted Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin.

“We needed a whammy,” Cribbin continued in full Anchorman mode. “We have to be honest we were hoping to get someone to entice him. Sure, that’s what most teams do. He’s one of the best on the country, if not the best.”

When Dolan (henceforth, to be known as “number seven”) ran a hand through his hair, Connolly head-locked the Garrycastle wing before thumping him into the grass. Instantly, three Westmeath players descended upon the St Vincent’s man. At least one clean punch was landed into Connolly’s face.

Referee Fergal Kelly consulted both linesmen before showing Connolly and number seven yellow cards.

“It wouldn’t be the first time we seen that,” was Jim Gavin’s reaction. “Their number seven raised his hand and made contact with Diarmuid’s head. I thought he officials managed the game well in general.

“We expect our players to stand up for themselves as well. Both of them got a yellow card. I think it was a fair assessment of that particular incident.”

Gavin, when told about Cribbin admitting it was a Westmeath tactic to get to Connolly, responded: “It’s certainly not language that we use. We want our defenders to win their own individual battles but not in any malicious or devious way. We want to play the game the right way, sometimes players make mistakes, we understand that, and I’m sure number seven didn’t mean to do what he did. That just happens in the heat of the moment.

“Diarmuid is one of our most skilful players. We have seen in the past some of our most skilful players targeted but they didn’t complain. They never do complain to me, they just get on with it. That is one of their hallmarks, that resilience.”

Not that we were embroiled in a vintage Connolly exhibition, but that incident seemed to distract the 29 year old, who did recover to post a quality score before his withdrawal on 52 minutes.

By that stage any hint of a competitive football match had been swallowed by 10 unanswered Dublin points.

The first goal, on 57 minutes,came from deep in the Dublin defence. Johnny Cooper rushed down field with turnover ball and on his second action in a flowing move he fed the increasingly impressive Brian Fenton who centred to Brogan, who slapped to the net.

That tore open the contest as Westmeath abandoned the double sweeper combination of Francis Boyle and Callum McCormack.

They were made pay with McManamon planting a lovely second goal into the top corner of Darren Quinn’s net.


Dublin: 1 Stephen Cluxton (capt); 2 Philly McMahom, 3 Johnny Cooper, 4 David Byrne; 5 Eric Lowndes, 6 Cian O'Sullivan, 7 John Small (0-1); 8 Brian Fenton, 9 Michael Darragh MacAuley; 10 Paul Flynn (0-1), 12 Ciaran Kilkenny, 14 Diarmuid Connolly (0-1); 11 Kevin McManamon (1-2), 13 Dean Rock (0-8, all frees), 15 Bernard Brogan (1-4). Substitutions: 17 Paddy Andrews (0-2) for E Lowndes (half-time), 25 Con O'Callaghan for MD MacAuley (47 mins), 18 Denis Bastick for D Connolly (52 mins), 22 Darren Daly for J Small (55 mins), 23 Michael Fitzsimons for C O'Sullivan (59 mins), 24 Paul Mannion for D Rock (62 mins).

Westmeath: 1 D Quinn; 5 Jamie Gonoud, 6 Alan Stone, 4 Killian Daly; 2 Kevin Maguire, 3 Francis Boyle, 15, CAllum McCormack, 7 James Dolan; 8 Denis Corroon (0-1), 9 Ger Egan (0-2, capt); 10 David Lynch, 11 Paul Sharry; 12 Ray Connellan, 13 Kieran Martin, 14 John Heslin (0-6, five frees). Substitutions: 18 Darragh Daly for R Connellan (34 mins, inj), 25 Shane Corcoran for D Lynch (52 mins), 23 Sam Duncan for K Daly (54 mins), 17 John COnnellan for K Martin (57 mins), 24 Rob Gorman for K Maguire (60 mins), 21 Dean McNicholas for P Sharry (64 mins).

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent