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27 May 2013; In attendence at the Gaelic Athletic Association and Gaelic Players Association launch of the Elverys GAA/GPA Youth camps are, from left, Waterford hurler Noel Connors, Down footballer Benny Coulter, Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan, Westmeath footballer Dessie Dolan and Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly. The Elverys GAA/GPA Youth camps offer the chance for kids between 13 to 15 years of age to learn the skills of Gaelic football and hurling from their GAA heroes, in high quality venues across the country over a two week period, from 24th June to 28th June and 1st July to 5th July 2013. Elverys GAA/GPA Youth Camps Launch, Pitchside, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

27 May 2013; In attendence at the Gaelic Athletic Association and Gaelic Players Association launch of the Elverys GAA/GPA Youth camps are, from left, Waterford hurler Noel Connors, Down footballer Benny Coulter, Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan, Westmeath footballer Dessie Dolan and Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly. The Elverys GAA/GPA Youth camps offer the chance for kids between 13 to 15 years of age to learn the skills of Gaelic football and hurling from their GAA heroes, in high quality venues across the country over a two week period, from 24th June to 28th June and 1st July to 5th July 2013. Elverys GAA/GPA Youth Camps Launch, Pitchside, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

27 May 2013; In attendence at the Gaelic Athletic Association and Gaelic Players Association launch of the Elverys GAA/GPA Youth camps are, from left, Waterford hurler Noel Connors, Down footballer Benny Coulter, Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan, Westmeath footballer Dessie Dolan and Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly. The Elverys GAA/GPA Youth camps offer the chance for kids between 13 to 15 years of age to learn the skills of Gaelic football and hurling from their GAA heroes, in high quality venues across the country over a two week period, from 24th June to 28th June and 1st July to 5th July 2013. Elverys GAA/GPA Youth Camps Launch, Pitchside, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Westmeath can pose questions but Dubs will provide answers.

NINE years have passed since Páidí ó Sé's Westmeath did the 'unthinkable' and ambushed the Dubs in Croke Park. It is, you might argue, even more unthinkable that history will repeat itself this evening.

That may seem unfair on an upwardly mobile team that recently booked its ticket to the league's top-flight; a team that has revealed resolve by the bucketload in extricating itself from a myriad of losing positions to achieve their promotion goal.

But first, some context: the late, great ó Sé inherited the most talented Westmeath panel in history and then called on his finely honed managerial instincts and charisma to make those players believe that anything was possible. Then they played a Dublin team coming off the back of a deeply deflating 2003 championship and went for the jugular.

 

METICULOUS

Now fast-forward to 2013. Westmeath have been building towards this point for a couple of years under the meticulous management of Pat Flanagan but while the bar is still pointing upward, they have a relatively shallow panel beyond the first 15 and a team that doesn't compare to the '04 model – not yet, at least.

They also happen to be facing a far more formidable Sky Blue collective than the Tommy Lyons team that crashed and burned.

Jim Gavin inherited a squad that had scaled the All-Ireland summit in 2011 and then quickly set about putting his own indelible stamp on the team's make-up and tactical alignment. In doing so, he had the luxury of sifting through an abundance of recent All-Ireland U21 winners.

Even in the midst of their spring tinkering, Dublin kept on winning. The new manager also espoused a refreshing (even vaguely novel) emphasis on attack being the best form of defence: the approach was validated by a first league title in 20 years.

Now, though, for the acid test – Championship. Westmeath won't be the ultimate barometer but, on all recent form, they should ask some difficult questions. The midlanders have come a long way since 2009, when the previously progressive Tomás ó Flatharta reign had unravelled to such an extent that they endured 27-point humiliations against a rapacious Dublin – not once but twice, in league and Championship.

They have also progressed in physical leaps and psychological bounds since 2011 when (barely 14 months into Flanagan's tenure) they were ripped asunder by Wexford and then limped out of the qualifiers to Antrim.

Westmeath's subsequent progress can be measured in the maturing of young talent such as Ger Egan and Kieran Martin; in some standout performances (pushing Kerry to the brink last summer); in their spring penchant for second-half comebacks; but primarily in results. The league table doesn't lie.

Nor, however, can we disguise the apparent gulf between Divisions One and Two – a point reinforced by merciless Mayo against ill-prepared Galway two weeks ago.

Essentially it boils down to time and space: Westmeath will have little of either commodity this evening. Moreover, their pedestrian preamble against Division Four opposition (Carlow) will scarcely have fine-tuned them for the explosive alternative offered by the likes of James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey, Cian O'Sullivan and Paul Mannion, to name just four of the most notable speedsters in the Sky Blue ranks.

This is not to say Dublin are invincible: there were sufficient spring signs of defensive vulnerability, especially when teams ran at them, to beg questions about their long-term All-Ireland readiness.

The hosts will obviously be on guard against Westmeath's two marquee forwards, Denis Glennon and the wonderfully enduring Dessie Dolan, but they can't afford to ignore the goal threat posed by other less vaunted names such as Martin, James Dolan and Callum McCormack.

In that context, Rory O'Carroll's full-back return is a huge positive for Dublin as it should shore up at least some of those defensive gaps.

Nor should Westmeath's 11-point margin against Carlow mask the fact that several key men down the spine underperformed that day. They must all bring their A-game to Croker tonight, especially John Heslin who has the potential (but not the recent form) to trouble Dublin's attack-minded midfield.

If that happens, they can make this a genuine contest ... but not an ambush.

Given the breadth and brio of a Dublin attack boasting a former Footballer of the Year (Bernard Brogan), a two-time All Star (Paul Flynn), two gifted U21 prodigies (Ciarán Kilkenny and Mannion), the mercurial talent that is Diarmuid Connolly and the revitalised Paddy Andrews, they simply appear too hot to handle.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; D Daly, R O'Carroll, J Cooper; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan.

WESTMEATH: G Connaughton; M McCallon, K Gavin, K Maguire; D Harte, P Sharry, J Gaffey; D Duffy, J Heslin; K Martin, C McCormack, J Dolan; G Egan, D Glennon, D Dolan.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Dublin 1/10, Draw 16/1, Westmeath 15/2

VERDICT: Dublin


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