Dubs get Leinster U21 four in-a-row bid off to the perfect start with dominant win in Westmeath
Dublin 2-14 Westmeath 0-6
Con O'Callaghan may have been the headline act but forward colleague Aaron Byrne inflicted most of the damage as Dublin cruised into the semi-finals of the Leinster U21 FC.
Perversely, Westmeath struck the first two points and also the last at a rain-lashed Lakepoint Park. For all the action in between, they were totally outclassed as the Dubs opened their quest for a fourth consecutive Leinster crown in straight-forward fashion.
Dessie Farrell, entering his fifth and final year in the Dublin U21 cockpit, was overseeing a team expected by most dispassionate observers to win this quarter-final with something to spare.
The bookies were certainly convinced: Paddy Power had them priced at a short-odds 1/10 beforehand, with Westmeath 6/1 despite their eye-catching ambush of Meath a week earlier.
The squally conditions in Mullingar went some way to levelling the playing field, and perhaps some Dublin ring-rust may also have contributed to their relatively sluggish start.
Westmeath wing-back Daire Conway ended a flowing move with a point inside 20 seconds, and another slick interchange culminated in Ronan O’Toole doubling their lead after eight minutes.
A case of poking the bear? It certainly seemed that way as the visitors suddenly, and ruthlessly, let rip.
Cian Murphy ignited the Sky Blue onslaught with a fisted point as they rattled off 1-3 in a three-minute blitzkrieg – and 1-6 in total without reply before a Darren Giles braced lifted the siege shortly before the break.
Byrne struck their 11th minute goal, bursting through the middle before unleashing a shot that Kevin Fagan saved … but the rebound fell kindly at the feet of the Na Fianna man who finished first-time to the net.
Byrne was the star turn of that first half, clipping 1-2, while midfielder Brian Howard and Glen O’Reilly were also prominent as the slick-moving Dubs assumed total command.
O’Callaghan, just back from his latest hurling heroics with Cuala, had something of a mixed bag: by the 20th minute he had already offloaded six shots for a return of just 0-1 from play.
As the weather deteriorated on the restart, so did Dublin’s fluency to begin with. Yet, even as Westmeath boss John Keane emptied his bench, there was no sign of a revival.
Then the roof caved in during the dying minutes as Dublin added 1-5 in a late five-minute shell-burst. O’Callaghan struck a brace of frees to bring his tally to 0-5; Byrne increased his personal haul from play to 2-3 with a clinical low finish on 58 minutes; and senior squad member Colm Basquel landed a brace off the bench.
Dublin’s reward is a semi-final date with Longford on March 22.
SCORERS - Dublin: A Byrne 2-3, C O’Callaghan 0-5 (4f), C Basquel 0-2, C Murphy, G O’Reilly, E Murchan, C Sallier 0-1 each. Westmeath: D Giles 0-2 (1f), D Conway, R O’Toole, N Mitchell (f), C Shanley 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: E Comerford; D Byrne, S McMahon, S Clayton; C Murphy, C O’Shea, E Murchan; B Howard, A Foley; T Fox, S Bugler, G O’Reilly; A Byrne, C O’Callaghan, S Smith. Subs: C Basquel for Bugler (ht), C Sallier for Smith (39), D Gavin for O’Reilly (48), B Sholvin for Fox (57), D McIllgorm for O’Callaghan (60).
WESTMEATH: K Fagan; M Darling, R Wallace, P Murray; D Conway, M Kelly, B Sayeh; N Mitchell, L O’Reilly; E O’Brien, S Duncan, J Kearney; R O’Toole, S Clavin, D Giles. Subs: I McGovern for Conway (ht), C Shanley for O’Brien (ht), G Murray for Kearney (39), C Dillon for Kelly (39), T Adamson for O’Toole (51), R Curley for Clavin (51).
REF: D Moore (Laois).