Westmeath set up date with the Dubs after Offaly replay win
An impressive John Heslin helps steer his side into the Leinster SFC semi-finals
John Heslin is challenged by Sean Pender during Westmeath’s qualifier win over Offaly. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Westmeath 3-17 Offaly 0-15
Three well taken goals in the final quarter enabled Westmeath to defeat neighbours Offaly by a flattering 11-point margin in Saturday afternoon’s replayed Leinster senior football quarter-final, played in glorious sunshine in Mullingar.
Exactly two decades ago a highly fancied Offaly team, then under the tutelage of Tommy Lyons, were quite lucky to eke out a draw against Barney Rock’s Westmeath in Tullamore, before making the short trip to Mullingar 13 days later and winning the replay with consummate ease (en-route to an unexpected Leinster title, the Faithful County’s last).
The roles have been reversed in 2017, with the Lake County making the most of a similar escape in Tullamore to win the replay with quite a bit to spare in Mullingar, on this occasion just six days after an injury-time free from John Heslin kept his under-performing side’s championship hopes alive in O’Connor Park.
Saturday’s ideal weather made for a generally open contest, in sharp contrast to the dour draw spoiled by the strong wind in Tullamore last time.
Westmeath led in the replay from start to finish and always looked the more likely winners, with their three key forwards - the aforementioned Heslin, Kieran Martin and Paul Sharry - all upping their game considerably from six days previously.
Heslin, in particular, looked a class act at full forward from an early stage of the contest and his score-taking and score-making were right out of the top drawer. He was largely instrumental in Tom Cribbin’s charges being full value for a 0-6 to 0-2 lead after 13 minutes.
Later in the half, a surging run by Martin should have yielded a goal for a dominant Westmeath outfit, but his loose pass failed to pick out Killian Daly with the goal at the defender’s mercy. It needed a brace of converted ‘45’s by Sharry to help the wind-assisted home team to a 0-9 to 0-5 lead at the interval.
There was very little to choose between the teams in the first half of the second moiety, with a wonderful all-round performance by Offaly centre half back, Peter Cunningham - who ended up scoring four great points from open play - one of the main talking points.
The first goal of the contest was always going to be vital and sub Denis Glennon, the only survivor from Westmeath’s historic Delaney Cup win 13 years ago under Paidí Ó Sé, rattled the Offaly crossbar when a goal beckoned. However, the crucial three-pointer arrived at the start of the final quarter when a Westmeath breakaway saw the strong-running Sharry pick out Martin. An All Star nominee in 2015, Martin cut powerfully inside to set up a tap-in goal for substitute John Egan.
Heslin added another point to increase the margin to six points. However, Pat Flanagan’s charges rallied splendidly and were rewarded with a quickfire hat-trick of quality points from play via sub Sean Doyle, Nigel Dunne and the excellent Cunningham.
Offaly, whose indiscipline had proven costly when Westmeath eked out a late equaliser against just 13 opponents in the drawn match, lost Cian Donohoe to a second bookable offence with some 12 minutes of normal time remaining.
This proved to be crucial as Westmeath took over at this juncture and they ensured their biggest ever winning championship margin against their once-mighty neighbours with late goals from Heslin (a superb low finish past Alan Mulhall) and Martin (a palmed effort from point-blank range when teed up by Heslin).
Heslin picked up a black card in injury-time and could not be replaced as Westmeath’s sub allocation had been used up, but it mattered little and merely gave the ecstatic home fans the opportunity to applaud off their marquee player.
Westmeath now face Dublin in the championship for the third year running in next Sunday’s provincial semi-final, following on from two successive Leinster final defeats against the All-Ireland champions-elect in both 2015 and 2016. For their part, Offaly have a home tie against Cavan in the Qualifiers next weekend.
WESTMEATH: D Quinn; J Gonoud, K Maguire, K Daly; J Dolan, P Holloway, M McCallon; G Egan (0-1), A Stone; K Reilly, P Sharry (0-3, two ‘45’s), A Gaughan; K Martin (1-2), J Heslin (1-6, two frees), C McCormack (0-1). Subs: F Boyle (0-2) for Holloway (5 mins), D Glennon for McCormack (35+2 mins), J Egan (1-0) for Reilly (half-time), T McDaniel (0-1) for Glennon (48 mins), D Lynch for Stone (50 mins), N Mulligan (0-1) for Gaughan (69 mins).
OFFALY: A Mulhall; B Darby, E Rigney, S Pender; N Darby (0-1, free), P Cunningham (0-4), C Donoghue; C McNamee (0-1), D Hanlon; N Dunne (0-5, three frees), J Moloney, M Brazil (0-1); R Allen, G Guilfoyle (0-1), N McNamee. Subs: J Lalor for N Darby (half-time), B Allen for N McNamee (41 mins), A Sullivan for Brazil (48 mins), J O’Connor for Rigney (55 mins), S Doyle (0-2) for Moloney (58 mins), D Hogan for Hanlon (70+2 mins)
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)