Monday 19 March 2018

Cribbin sets Westmeath a scoring target they have never reached before against Dublin

Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Tom Cribbin has set the bar so high for Westmeath in tomorrow's Leinster final that even if they formed a pyramid with each line stacked in a pyramid and goalkeeper Darren Quinn perched on top, he would probably be unable to reach it.

Cribbin's statement that the camp reckons they have "no chance of beating Dublin unless we get three goals and concede none" is either a starkly honest assessment or an attempt to draw the champions deep into over-confident territory before ambushing them. Score three goals and concede none?

If Cribbin (pictured left) had time to research Westmeath's scoring record against Dublin, he would discover the extent of the challenge which awaits his side to score one, let alone three goals.

Westmeath have scored only one goal (Michael Ennis in the 2008 Leinster semi-final) against Dublin in their last 11 championship games over 44 years and have never scored three goals against them.

On only two occasions (1931 and 1932) have Westmeath scored two goals against Dublin.

And since this may be Dublin's best ever squad, it really is asking an awful lot of Westmeath, who dropped into Division 4 at the end of this year's Allianz League, to find a way past Stephen Cluxton three times.

Granted, Westmeath have improved since completing an unfortunate descent from Division 1 to Division 4 in successive seasons in April.

That's encouraging but wins over Offaly and Kildare, both of whom were fellow travellers with Cribbin's men in Division 3 this year, scarcely prove that Westmeath are anywhere near ready to match Dublin.

But then that's familiar ground for all other Leinster counties too, the most recent proof coming against Laois and Meath.

Still, appearing in the Leinster final in successive seasons is new and exciting territory for Westmeath, so they are determined to make the most of it.

They opted for the damage limitation system against Dublin last year, flooding the defensive channels in the first half in an attempt to keep the champions in their sights before becoming more adventurous later on.

It worked well enough up to half-time (Westmeath were four points behind) but two early second-half goals set Dublin on their way to a 13-point win (2-13 to 0-6).

Read more: The problem with Leinster

It was Dublin's lowest concession in a championship game since their bizarre 0-8 to 0-6 win over Donegal in the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final and their lowest in Leinster since 1987 when they beat Wicklow by 2-18 to 0-6 in the semi-final.

Still, compared to how other Leinster counties had fared against Dublin, it was a respectable get-out, which Westmeath hoped would leave them reasonably well-placed for a Round 4 qualifier bid to win a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

However, it must have taken more out of them than they thought as Fermanagh won the qualifier tie by nine points on a day when Westmeath suffered another power failure, scoring only seven points.

Cribbin has promised a much bolder approach against Dublin this year, even if the risks in that policy are obvious as Dublin have the capacity to run in a big score against most opposition when they synchronise all parts of their game, as they do so often nowadays.

Of course, it's possible that Cribbin's public outlining of his plans is a smokescreen and that he will set up in much the same way as last year.

It did, after all, work until early in the second half when Dublin got through for two goals, both of which could have been avoided. Despite Cribbin's comments, it's difficult to believe that Westmeath will go toe-to-toe with Dublin and risk a big defeat which would make it very difficult to re-set for the qualifiers.

Besides, Westmeath played conservatively for a long time against Kildare, only opening up when it looked as if the game was running away from them.

Kildare reacted meekly to the new challenge but Dublin won't.

In fact, the more attack-minded Westmeath become, the more it will suit Dublin.

Cribbin insisted after a disappointing National League campaign that his side were much better suited to summer conditions, a claim that, in fairness, has been borne out so far.

However, not even a liking for quick surfaces can insulate them against the harsh reality that most likely awaits tomorrow.

That's no reflection on Westmeath - it's just the way it is at a time when the power of Dublin football is truly awesome.

Irish Independent

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