Egan rescues Lake men as Offaly freeze
Westmeath 0-10 Offaly 0-10
Twenty years after Offaly played out a dour draw with Westmeath before surprisingly going on to win their last Leinster SFC title, history repeated itself yesterday.
With reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin waiting in the last four, it's highly unlikely that either of these Midland rivals will collect provincial silverware this summer, and the fireworks expected in Bord na Móna O'Connor Park never materialised.
Having played a textbook half of football against a stiff breeze, Offaly were expected to push on with the wind at their backs, but with no Championship win over Westmeath in 11 years, they looked gripped by fear.
When Graham Guilfoyle kicked a super point to put the Faithful one up on 62 minutes, revenge for last year's one-point defeat looked likely but rather than push forward, they sat back and invited on the Lake men, while losing both Michael Brazil and Ruairí Allen to red cards (both second yellows) in the final quarter.
They could leave no further marks on the scoreboard and instead, it was left to the nerveless John Heslin to fire over the injury-time leveller from a placed ball, with Offaly boss Pat Flanagan left to rue some mental frailties when the finishing post was in sight.
"We probably got a bit scared when we saw the winning line. We have to take into consideration that we've won one Leinster Championship match in ten years so it's not going to come that easy," Flanagan said.
"It's going to be a slow process to try and build this team and to get it where we want to get it. We didn't get across the line, possibly because we haven't been successful over the past number of years.
"But we will work with the boys over the coming week to ensure that if we get that opportunity again we'll take it. We felt we let it slip last year, and we just didn't get across the line this year but that doesn't make us a bad team. It's just a mental thing that we need to get across in the coming games."
On the back of an impressive Division 4 campaign, and with two successive Leinster final appearances, much was expected of Tom Cribbin's Westmeath but they never got motoring, and had it not been for captain Ger Egan, their goose would have been cooked long before the finish.
From the first whistle, Egan took the game to the Faithful, kicking four powerful scores, and with Kieran Martin and Heslin well below par, the Tyrrellspass midfielder was delighted to get another bite of the cherry after playing second fiddle.
"There's nothing going to be in it either way. It will stand to both teams next day and you'll probably see it a bit more free-flowing. I don't expect anything different from Offaly. They want to beat us as much as we want to beat them," Egan said.
"They showed huge physicality and we struggled with that, we really, really did. We just picked our scores at the end to level it, but I genuinely thought they were a better team there."
Offaly were hit with an early blow as experienced defender Brian Darby went off after a heavy knock to the head but against the elements, the Faithful held possession for prolonged periods, rarely allowing Westmeath to break their defensive cover.
Martin did spurn a goal chance on three minutes before Nigel Dunne opened with a free, which was quickly cancelled out by a long-range effort from Egan.
It was tit for tat throughout with Dunne and Shane Dempsey trading scores before Westmeath kicked on with efforts from Egan and Noel Mulligan in a game which often felt like torture for the eyes.
Brazil was playing like a man inspired for Offaly and the industrious Tullamore half-forward fired two points in as many minutes to level affairs before Dunne and Guilfoyle pointed.
However, Westmeath drew level despite misfiring badly, with two points from Heslin (one free) closing out the half, 0-6 apiece. Niall Darby opened the second-half scoring but Egan, who was keeping the Westmeath fires stoked almost single-handedly, responded with a super point before the returning Niall McNamee, who looked ring rusty, hit his first of the day.
Heslin pointed a difficult free before Johnny Moloney (a handpassed effort) and Egan traded points midway through the half. Scores were hard to come by and when Guilfoyle fired the Faithful ahead with a beauty, they looked fit to push ahead but instead they retreated, with no forwards regularly inside the opposition '65'.
Heslin showed all his character to nail a nerveless free, won bravely by Denis Glennon, four minutes into injury-time and despite a speculative effort from Paul Sharry at the death the sides remained level and will meet again in Cusack Park next Saturday.
"We probably should have won it," said a disappointed Guilfoyle. "We went into our shell a little bit and we nearly brought them back into it ourselves. It's going to be a completely different game next Saturday. Hopefully we can get over the end line and right our wrongs … I believe we'll win it next week."
SCORERS - Westmeath: J Heslin 0-4 (3fs), G Egan 0-4 each, N Mulligan, S Dempsey 0-1 each. Offaly: N Dunne 0-3 (1f), M Brazil and G Guilfoyle 0-2 each, N Darby, J Moloney, N McNamee 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH - D Quinn 6; J Gonoud 7, K Maguire 6, K Daly 7; J Dolan 6, P Holloway 7, M McCallon 6; A Stone 6, G Egan 8; K Reilly 5, P Sharry 6, N Mulligan 6; J Heslin 7, K Martin 5, S Dempsey 6. Subs: D Lynch 7 for Dempsey (h-t), J Connellan 6 for Stone (48), J Egan 6 for Reilly (52), T McDaniel 6 for Martin (58), D Glennon 6 for Mulligan (64), C McCormack for Glennon (73 inj).
OFFALY - A Mulhall 6; B Darby 5, E Rigney 6, S Pender 7; N Darby 7, P Cunningham 6, C Donoghue 7; E Carroll 6, D Hanlon 6; M Brazil 7, G Guilfoyle 7, N Dunne 6; R Allen 6, J Moloney 6, N McNamee 6. Subs: J Lalor 7 for B Darby (2 inj), J O'Connor for Brazil (blood 22), Brazil for O'Connor (23), J O'Connor 6 for Carroll (54), A Sullivan 4 for Hanlon (60), B Allen 6 for Sullivan (BC 63), R McNamee 6 for Dunne (66).
REF - P O'Sullivan (Kerry)