Dublin V Westmeath
Well the script was written for this one before the ball was even thrown in….apparently. All the elements were there that had been predicted beforehand. Westmeath parking the bus, a brave performance that just couldn’t be sustained, Dublin pulling away in the end and running out easy winners. The scoreline would certainly suggest that’s how things transpired, it wasn’t all that straightforward though. Before I go any further, let me congratulate the Dublin lads on another job well done. You can say what you like about the standard of football in Leinster, but 11 titles in 12 years is still a phenomenal achievement, and Dublin have worked extremely hard to get themselves into this dominant position, at club level and underage level all the way to the top.
As regards the game itself, it seemed to me that Westmeath have learned, or tried to anyway, a few lessons from last year’s defeat at the same stage. While they did set themselves up very defensively again, it seemed that they had a bit more purpose to their attacks once they got on the ball. They had a potential goal chance in the first half, did well with some good long balls into their forward line, and throughout the first half showed some serious hunger. It was neck and neck during this period leading to a mere 1 point lead for Dublin at the break, which Dublin were made fight every step for. Unfortunately for Westmeath, Dublin went up a gear or 2 in the 2nd half. One could argue that Dublin were below par in the 1st half, and that they only did enough when they needed to, but the reality is that Westmeath were impressive yesterday, in the 1st half anyway, and made Dublin earn every point they got. Perhaps if they didn’t lose Ray Connellan to injury in the first half, and if John Heslin was fed with a bit more ball in front of goal Westmeath could’ve gotten their noses in front and lasted a bit longer. But Dublin are where they are because of the leaders they have all over the pitch, and yesterday we saw, among others, Bernard Brogan getting back to his best with 1-4, Dean Rock continue his excellent season with 8 points, and Johnny Small justify his inclusion with a superb display in defence. Teams probably learn more in defeat than in victory, and Westmeath can certainly look at the 2nd half blitz they endured and pick out a few areas to work on before they tackle Mayo. Overall I think there are enough positives for them to take into that next match and have the confidence to play with a bit of abandon and get themselves into a quarter-final.
Dublin on the other hand are exactly where they will have expected to be, and will understand that the tests are about to get a whole lot tougher. You can draw some parallels between them and the Kilkenny hurlers, in that they weather a first half storm only to increase their intensity in everything they do in the 2nd half and before we know it they are suddenly 6 or 7 points up, and that’s when they strike for goal. I wouldn’t fancy the job of trying to mastermind a victory over them, but you can bet that whoever Dublin meet in the quarter-final, any potential weakness will be probed and exploited. And with the likes of Donegal, Kerry and Tyrone standing in their way, any room for complacency that may have been there has pretty much disappeared.