Friday 23 March 2018

Cribbin's Westmeath need to have a real go at the Dubs this time

Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin
Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin
Tom Cribbin has plenty to think about ahead of Sunday’s showdown. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Draw a scoring graph from the last two Leinster finals between Dublin and Westmeath and the parallel is quite striking.

Relatively close to the halfway point with a steady gradient but then a dramatic spike in the third quarter as Dublin stepped up a gear.

The only apparent difference was the last quarter of both games where Dublin's rate of scoring tapered off in 2015 but continued accelerating 12 months later.

Westmeath have lost the first halves by just 0-15 to 0-10 (0-8 to 0-4 in 2015 and 0-7 to 0-6 in 2016) but have shipped all the punishment after the break to lose by 4-17 to 0-6 on cumulative scores. The policy of containment worked, but only to a point.

The general consensus in Westmeath is that they can't bring the same game-plan back to Croke Park for a third successive year. And judging by the comments of key attacker John Heslin and manager Tom Cribbin after Saturday's replay win over Offaly, the approach will be different. They'll be giving it 'a go'.

But that too was the vibe that came out of Westmeath last year as intimated at a press conference by Cribbin.

Westmeath's John Heslin. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Westmeath's John Heslin. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

"There is more belief because we are willing to throw caution to the wind now," observed Cribbin.

"Last year, they were terrified because we saw Longford and a few teams that went at them, and they got demoralised and they were beaten by 20-odd points," said Cribbin at the time.

"We didn't want that to happen, we wanted to go and give a performance without getting demoralised. But now we have a bit of belief, now they feel they are entitled to have a go at Dublin. So it's easier to convince them to attack the game now and to go at it."

It never a materialised that way as a carbon copy of the previous year developed with Westmeath entrenching themselves in great numbers without committing enough to the counter-attack.

They scored four more points than the previous year but the ambition to chase was just as stunted.

Former attacker Dessie Dolan has articulated the view from within the county that they need to give much more of themselves in Sunday's Leinster semi-final.

"A lot of Westmeath supporters will be very frustrated if we go to Croke Park and play like that again," he admitted. "Even when it was quite clear that Dublin were getting away last year Westmeath just kept their defensive shape.

"What is there to fear? We've lost to them by 13 and 15 points playing a particular way. If that's the case again then at least play to the team's strengths and attack them," he added.

"Last year was just so disappointing. We went to Croke Park with just no ambition to win the game, sat back and didn't take it to them at all.

"What was most disappointing was that this was a final, a Leinster final, there was a cup at stake yet there was never a chance that we were going to compete for it the way we set up.

"It's a big day to go to Croke Park, it's a big day to play Dublin. Supporters need to know that it will be worth their while."

In Heslin, Paul Sharry, Ger Egan, Kieran Martin and James Dolan, Westmeath have players that would challenge for places on most inter-county teams.

Dolan feels Westmeath are capable of so much more than they showed in either Leinster final.

"I think it's significant that in the games against Mayo, Meath and Kildare over the last two years that we really only saw the best of Westmeath when they cut loose," he said. "They scored 3-17 on Saturday against a defensive team.

The trend in football this season has been for teams to play a less defensive type of game, certainly a faster counter-attacking game, and I think Westmeath would benefit from that. I know the supporters will certainly appreciate it."

Westmeath were involved in a turgid 0-10 each draw against Offaly in O'Connor Park that drew criticism for the way it panned out. Heslin was left isolated for far too long in attack, just as he was in the 2015 Leinster final.

Last Saturday, there was evidence of Westmeath thriving with a much more expansive game, replicating what they did in this year's Allianz Division 4 campaign.

Ball was directed into Heslin early and often and he picked off 1-4 from play in addition to assists for 1-2.

Injuries to Paddy Holloway, Callum McCormack and Denis Glennon cast a shadow over the win with Holloway the most likely to miss out.

Not surprisingly, they were the heaviest scorers in the league with 13-28 amassed in a division that they were, ultimately, far too strong for.

And in Croke Park they hit 2-24 against Wexford to really underline their attacking qualities and the belief that they are a team designed to attack not defend.

They've been building up quite a decent bit of Croke Park experience with that league final a sixth game there in the last three seasons. Dublin may not be at the same pitch as they were for either Leinster final which were two and three weeks later in the season.

Cribbin is confident that the games against Dublin have brought Westmeath on. But they need to find out by how much with a full-blooded performance without restriction.

Irish Independent

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