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West' is awake to next test at Croker

NEXT time Westmeath take the field collectively, they'll be up against the Dubs in Croker, a challenge manager Pat Flanagan ranks the most arduous in Gaelic football.

Yesterday, they sauntered through perhaps the meekest opposition they have or will face all year, a Carlow team who did nothing to improve their reputation as a low-ranking Division 4 team.

Westmeath won by 3-15 to 1-10 in Mullingar on an afternoon when they rarely used or needed the outer reaches of their talents and one which, in light of what is to come on June 1, scarcely qualified as a test.

"I suppose, it's on our home patch and Carlow may have felt a bit inferior coming up here and we got going early," surmised Flanagan, half making excuses for the opposition's showing.

Westmeath will play their league football in Division 1 next year and Flanagan had already challenged his players to kick on and match Dublin weeks ago, so expecting a team like Carlow – with a manager, Anthony Rainbow, in both his first year in charge and the embryonic stages of manager-dom – to mount any stiffer a challenge than they mustered might have been ambitious in the extreme.

But the brass tacks are that Westmeath were so in control, 'contest' is too strong a word for what transpired.

Rainbow insisted he was "proud" of his players for "putting up a spirited performance", but bar the always-good Brendan Murphy, few of his number seemed able for Leinster football's most improved team, physically and in cold, hard footballing terms.



Westmeath were dominant in all the individual exchanges – Murphy's second-half flourishing apart – and it showed. Tactically, Rainbow played it pretty simple but it's arguable whether anything would have worked.

He elected to start Murphy at full-forward, a move which had, initially anyway, mixed results, but which revealed its logic as the game wore on but also, as Carlow drifted further to sea.

The Rathvilly man kicked Carlow's only point from play of the first-half but not until he had kicked four wides and their goal, scored by Seán Gannon in the 10th minute after chasing a dropping ball in on top of Gary Connaughton, was actually an under-hit shot for a point.

Not, it must be said, the Westmeath 'keeper's finest moment, particularly in light of a similar concession to Derry during the Division 2 final in Croke Park last month.



Rainbow's other ploy was to utilise Derek Hayden – named at number 15 – as a deep-lying sweeper, but the Éire Óg man won just one ball, a late cut-out from a pass from James Dolan, and then proceeded to immediately undo all the good of the act by giving away a free for a petulant push on Denis Glennon after he released the ball.

But sweeper or no sweeper, Westmeath poured through Carlow at their ease and relentlessly.

Dessie Dolan, in particular, thrived early on, linking up smartly with Denis Glennon and they, no doubt, are the players most likely to trouble Dublin in a fortnight's time.

Dolan finished up with five points to his name, all from play, and though Glennon only managed to score a single point, his fingerprints were all over a raft of Westmeath's scores, including the assist on two goals.

Ger Egan, tough, was perhaps the most influential player on the day, orchestrating the Westmeath attack beautifully, and they finally got the lead their superiority deserved when Kieran Martin sped through for their first goal after 27 minutes and then repeated the trick in first half injury time to open up a 2-8 to 1-3 interval lead.

Game over.

John Heslin, who according to Flanagan, carried a shoulder injury into the game, kicked some superb frees (five in total) while Brendan Murphy battled manfully in what was an already lost battle, kicking four points in the second half for Carlow but the cherry on the icing on the cake came when James Dolan poked in a pass from Denis Glennon to allow Westmeath pull up and Flanagan to empty his bench.

"I thought we defended very well in the first 20 to 25 minutes," an understandably disappointed Rainbow pointed out afterwards.

"We seemed to frustrate Westmeath a small bit in that period and they were finding it hard to penetrate us in certain areas. Unfortunately we gave away two goals very quickly in succession and that put us on the back foot for the rest of the first half.



"We had a good start to the second half but again, Westmeath, they've been doing it all year, they're very clinical in front of goals and they put up a big score again."

Predictably, Flanagan admitted mild satisfaction but called for massive improvement, saying: "We played well but I would like to think there is more in us. I thought we faded terribly in the second half. I don't think we played with any sort of intensity whatsoever. But that can happen in the first round when you go a few points ahead."