Westmeath edge past Offaly in heart-stopping Leinster quarter final
Westmeath 0-13 0-12 Offaly
WESTMEATH cast aside the grimness of spring and hit the summer ground running with a heart-stopping one-point victory over Offaly at a sun-dappled Cusack Park this afternoon.
LEINSTER SFC QUARTER-FINAL
The hosts had surged into a six-point interval lead (0-9 to 0-3) but then had to withstand a high-octane Offaly resurgence during a fraught second half.
The visitors, now backed by the wind, edged back to within a point on four separate occasions – but, crucially, they never drew level.
Fittingly, the winning point came in the 71st minute from James Dolan, who had performed defensive heroics with four block-downs. The wing-back popped up in attack, taking a short pass from Denis Corroon to calmly bisect the posts and restore a two-point cushion.
Offaly had fought back primarily through their second half dominance of the kickout, the frees of Nigel Dunne and the attacking bursts of centre-back Peter Cunningham. And it was Cunningham's second point from play, in the 72nd minute, that again left the minimum between the sides.
But their one chance of parity, and an O'Connor Park replay, evaporated when an unusually off-colour Niall McNamee shot wide from a 55m free.
The game ended soon after, and had a controversial postscript as bodies came onto the pitch. Westmeath's Kieran Martin was ushered off by one the backroom staff with his nose visibly pumping blood – but he still managed a defiant fist pump to the crowd.
Tom Cribbin was a manager under pressure ahead of this derby showdown against one of his former counties, having overseen a disastrous relegation to the Allianz League's bottom tier. So, too, were his players, who needed to front up as they did last summer when reaching the Leinster final.
Initially that pressure showed – on both sides – but after nine scoreless minutes Corroon curled over an excellent point from the right wing. Gradually, the shackles came off, as John Heslin and John Connellan took a firm grip of this contest.
Connellan was the creator for two outrageous Heslin points from the left wing, the first after a soaring catch, the second courtesy of a Sean Cavanagh-esque shimmy onto his right foot.
Connellan later took up the baton with two points from play, while Paul Sharry landed an eye-catching brace, one from a '45', as an efficient Westmeath made full use of the fresh breeze to construct a 0-9 to 0-3 half-time cushion.
By contrast, even though Offaly won lots of primary possession around midfield, their errant use of the ball and tendency to run blindly into maroon traffic was their downfall, time and again.
Their only first half scores came in a five-minute burst from the 17th minute; their best chance of a goal came and went when Niall Smith fumbled, some 15 metres out, on the half-hour.
They were vastly improved with the wind in their backs, but ultimately they were left to rue leaving themselves with so much ground to catch up.
SCORERS - Westmeath: J Heslin 0-5 (2f), J Connellan 0-3, P Sharry 0-2 (1 '45'), D Corroon, K Martin, J Dolan 0-1 each. Offaly: N Dunne 0-6 (5f), P Cunningham 0-2, B Allen, G Guilfoyle, J Moloney, N McNamee 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH: D Quinn; K Daly, F Boyle, J Gonoud; J Dolan, A Stone, K Maguire; D Corroon, G Egan; D Lynch, J Connellan, C McCormack; J Heslin, K Martin, P Sharry. Subs: J Egan for Lynch (39), B Sayeh for McCormack (56), D Daly for J Egan (64), P Fagan for K Daly (inj 65), L Dolan for Connellan (inj 67).
OFFALY: A Mulhall; B Darby, E Rigney, S Pender; N Darby, P Cunningham, J O'Connor; E O'Connor, N Smith; J Moloney, N Dunne, M Brazil; B Allen, N McNamee, G Guilfoyle. Subs: A Sullivan for Guilfoyle (black card 43), N Bracken for Brazil (52), S Doyle for Allen (61), C Donohue for Dunne (black card 71).
REF: P O'Sullivan (Kerry)
MAN OF THE MATCH: James Dolan (Westmeath)