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Dubs dig out narrow win

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Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Dessie Dolan, Westmeath, in action against Dublin's Chris Guckian (L) and Cian Mullins (R). Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Dessie Dolan, Westmeath, in action against Dublin's Chris Guckian (L) and Cian Mullins (R). Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

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Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

HOWEVER this season pans out, we can declare with certainty that a mildly diverting O'Byrne Cup opener in Mullingar will not be referenced as a watershed moment for Jim Gavin's Dublin.

But at least one trait that served them so well in 2013 looks to have survived through the last few months of back-slapping celebration.

Dublin, in whatever guise takes the field, are still able to dig out victories in the home straight of games that are threatening to go pear-shaped.

They could have lost last year's league final to Tyrone but won it by a point thanks to the late scoring efforts of Dean Rock and Jack McCaffrey. They could have lost that All-Ireland semi-final classic only to break Kerry hearts with a swashbuckling two-goal salvo at the death. Even the final against Mayo was a white-knuckle fight for survival in the midst of snapped hamstrings and concussed craniums.

And yesterday? Well, three times in the last 20 minutes, Westmeath edged into a one-point lead and seemed to have established momentum when it mattered most ... but three times Dublin riposted with an equaliser, setting the stage for Ciarán Kilkenny to pop over the winning point in the 68th minute.

Thus, the experimental visitors prevailed by 0-12 to 0-11 against a similarly weakened Westmeath to hit the ground running in this year's O'Byrne Cup. They will now be favourites to advance from Group D, with two home clashes looming in the next week - against Louth on Wednesday night (7.45) before DCU make the short hop to Parnell Park next Sunday (2.0).

"I thought the guys showed great mental resolve again," Gavin enthused in his post-match debrief. "Westmeath brought a lot to the table, a very fit side, Paul (Bealin) had them very well organised and they caused a lot of trouble in our attack. But it was very pleasing to see our guys keep their composure going right to the end, and a great point by Ciarán Kilkenny to win the game."

Now for the inevitable caveats. This was no blood-and-thunder affair - cue the absence of even a single 'black card' as referee David Coldrick adopted a sensible approach to the new disciplinary edict.

Nor was it a clash of the titans, more a battle of the wannabes. Dublin selected just two of their All-Ireland final starters - skipper Stephen Cluxton and Kilkenny - while Jonny Cooper enjoyed a fourth quarter cameo. Westmeath were pretty unrecognisable too: just three of their first 15, David Duffy, Paul Sharry and Callum McCormack, had started against Dublin in last year's Leinster SFC mismatch.

As it happened, the most famous Westmeath footballer of all threatened to hog the headlines. Dessie Dolan definitively buried any lingering retirement speculation by coming off the bench after 55 minutes: he duly kicked their next two points and almost landed a third when a 40-yard effort dropped wide via an upright.

GREAT POINTS

"Dessie Dolan came into the side and got two great points and they began to open us up," Gavin admitted. "But in fairness to the Dublin players, they stuck at it, kept going through the gears, trying to get a couple of scores, and recycled the ball well."

This was best illustrated by their 64th minute equaliser, when a Dublin attack appeared to have stalled before substitute Chris Guckian cleverly switched play to the right wing, where Eric Lowndes had ghosted into space. The young wing-back nailed his big chance and ditto with Kilkenny, pouncing on a breaking ball after Paul Hudson's ambitious shot off his weaker right mutated into an unlikely 'Garryowen' assist.

Earlier, Dublin had edged a nip-and-tuck first half by 0-6 to 0-5 and looked set to accelerate over the horizon when sub Eoin Fanning and Conor Walsh (in booming fashion) landed the first two points after the restart.

But this was followed by Westmeath's best spell, which included four unanswered points and a clear goal chance at either end: Kilkenny's effort was blocked by defender Steven Gilmore while Alan Giles became the latest fall-guy in a game of one-on-one poker with Cluxton.

For a while, Sharry's energetic ball-carrying threatened to prove the decisive factor ... but his end-product was mixed whereas one of the more seasoned Dubs, Darren Daly, edged our Man of the Match vote thanks to a rock-solid 70 at centre-back.

So, one-nil to Gavin against his old Dublin colleague-turned Westmeath boss. "For me it was about the performance," Paul Bealin concluded, "and if we can perform against a Dublin squad and give ourselves a chance to win the game and keep the score tight as much as we possibly can, then so be it. I was happy enough to perform to the highest level but I hate losing matches, like any manager."


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