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Dolan stars as West' awakens


Westmeath's Francis Boyle

Westmeath's Francis Boyle

Westmeath's Francis Boyle

Maybe, when you cut to the chase, Tom Cribbin's Westmeath are a championship team with no particular liking for spring football.

They were demoted last year but recovered to reach the Leinster SFC final, ambushing Meath en route. Now they've followed up the ignominy of a third consecutive relegation to scupper another arch-enemy, Offaly, who had approached yesterday's provincial quarter-final in buoyant mood.

But it was Westmeath who took all the bragging rights from a raucous Cusack Park, surging into a 0-9 to 0-3 first-half lead - then holding on frantically as the wind-assisted visitors belatedly caught fire.

"There was a lot of pressure on us because we knew we under-performed in the league," Cribbin admitted afterwards. "Management was very disappointed with themselves, and the players were disappointed with themselves. We all knew we didn't get it right, we had to deliver today - and thanks be to God they did."

But it was a lot closer than appeared possible at half-time. Offaly saw plenty of first-half possession but frittered most if it away through poor handling and poorer decision-making.

While they were running up cul-de-sacs, Westmeath defended smartly (no one better than James Dolan who made four brilliant blocks during the game) and attacked with increasing confidence as the half progressed.

John Connellan doubled as creative link man and smart finisher of 0-3, two before the break, while John Heslin landed two outrageous points from play in the first quarter.

While the wind facilitated Offaly's fightback, their lording of the kick-out was key. Peter Cunningham had a barnstorming second half, Nigel Dunne punished a series of fouls, and it all meant Westmeath were hanging on as, four times, Offaly drew within a point.

It was only apt that Dolan's injury-time forward foray, to kick Westmeath two clear, would prove the ultimate match-winner. Cunningham riposted in the 72nd minute, after which Niall McNamee's misfiring day was summed up by a missed 55-metre free.

The game ended soon after, with a controversial footnote, as Kieran Martin left the pitch nursing a bloodied nose. "Ah look, these things happen," he demurred. "If we lost, I'd probably still be on the ground - but we got the win."

And that's all that counts.

"It's exceptionally difficult to accept," lamented Offaly boss Pat Flanagan, making an unhappy return to his old stomping ground. "We slipped up in the league by not getting up into Division 2 and now we've slipped up here by not winning this game, a game that probably we should have won."

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 6; K Daly 7, F Boyle 5, J Gonoud 8; J Dolan 8, A Stone 6, K Maguire 7; D Corroon 7, G Egan 6; D Lynch 5, J Connellan 8, C McCormack 5; J Heslin 7, K Martin 6, P Sharry 6. Subs: J Egan 5 for Lynch (39), B Sayeh 6 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 6; B Darby 6, E Rigney 6, S Pender 6; N Darby 6, P Cunningham 8, J O'Connor 6; E Carroll 7, N Smith 7; J Moloney 7, N Dunne 6, M Brazil 5; B Allen 5, N McNamee 5, G Guilfoyle 6. Subs: A Sullivan 6 for Guilfoyle (BC 43), N Bracken 6for Brazil (52), S Doyle 6 for Allen (61), C Donohue for Dunne (BC 71).

WIDES: Westmeath 8 (3+5); Offaly 12 (5+7).

YELLOW: Westmeath 1 (Gonoud 62); Offaly 3 (Allen 19, Carroll 43, Brazil 46). BLACK: Westmeath 0; Offaly 2 (Guilfoyle 42, Dunne 71).

REF: P O'Sullivan (Kerry)

ATT: 8,123

Leinster SFC Quarter-final