Saturday 16 December 2017

Dublin annihilate Westmeath with 31-point drubbing to advance to Leinster SFC final

Dublin 4-29 Westmeath 0-10

Brian Fenton of Dublin climbs highest to win a high ball during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Westmeath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Brian Fenton of Dublin climbs highest to win a high ball during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Westmeath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

All-Ireland champions Dublin advanced to their seventh Leinster final in a row when for the third consecutive season they crushed Westmeath in the Leinster championship.

In 2016 and 2015 it was in the provincial final that Dublin handed out a mauling to Westmeath; on this occasion it was the provincial semi-final which attracted a decent attendance of 33,370 to Croke Park.

But this was the most comprehensive defeat of the lot as Dublin, who led by 13 points at half-time, piled on the misery after the break scoring three more goals – two coming late on just to underline their total dominance.

Paul Mannion hit eight points from play with the goals coming from Dean Rock, Ciaran Kilkenny – who was outstanding – and second-half substitutes Eoghan O'Gara and Kevin McManamon.

The message coming loud and clear from Croke Park is that Dublin might have lost the league final but they mean business in the championship.

In the first-half Westmeath played with just two forwards, John Heslin – who was marked by Cian O'Sullivan - and Kieran Martin who looked to have the measure of Michael Fitzsimons when he had possession.

But the underdogs' difficulty stemmed from their inability to secure their own kick out in the first-half.

Goalkeeper Darren Quinn had a nightmare as Dublin pushed up on his re-starts in the first-half when they had wind advantage. This meant that he had to go long with all his kick outs and his colleagues only secured four of his 17 restarts, and two of those wins were the result of lucky breaks.

Surprisingly, despite being overwhelmed in the middle third of the field where Dublin were winning all the breaks, Westmeath persisted with the tactic of keeping their best fielder Heslin in a forward role. He didn't field a kick out until the 27th minute and by then the Dubs were out of sight.

Teams who cough up so much possession to a team as talented as Dublin are asking to be punished and while Westmeath stayed in touch in the first 15 minutes – they trailed 5-4 after 13 minutes - from then until the half-time it was one way traffic on the field and on the scoreboard.

Ominously for Westmeath, Dublin had created four clear cut goal chances before Dean Rock punched a pass from defender Eric Lowndes past Quinn in the 28th minute to push the title holders 1-11 to 0-5 ahead.

Killian Daly, goalkeeper Quinn and Frank Boyle denied James McCarthy, Con Callaghan and Dean Rock respectively in the 2nd, 13th and 15th minutes respectively, while Ciaran Kilkenny blazed wide of an open goal after a great move involving O'Callaghan 11 minutes from the break.

For most of the half the Dublin forwards were content to pop the ball over the bar into the Hill 16 end when Paul Mannion and O'Callaghan contributing three points each from play. Ciaran Kilkenny and Paddy Andrews scored two each while Rock had racked up 1-4 by the break.

Dublin led by 13 points at the break (1-15; 0-5) which meant that the game was over as a contest.

Ironically, Westmeath started to win their own kick-outs after the break but it mattered little. Eoghan O'Gara who had replaced Andrews at half-time took less than eight minutes to announce his arrival. He beat Killian Daly in an aerial duel, turned and rifled the ball to the roof of the Westmeath net.

The score was created when Ciaran Kilkenny cleanly fielded the first long kick out which Stephen Cluxton had played all afternoon. It was from the resultant play that O'Gara did the damage.

The nature of the game was summed by the fact that with 20 minutes remaining Dublin had already virtually cleared their bench with Shane Carthy, David Byrne, Kevin McManamon and Hill 16 favourite Bernard Brogan all being introduced by team boss Jim Gavin.

Inevitably the game became somewhat ragged as the intensity levels dropped and Westmeath seen far more of the ball, but apart from Heslin's free-taking they made no impact on the scoreboard.

The sight of their play-maker Paul Sharry being replaced in the 56th minute summed up his personal and team's woes. But a week after Roscommon hammered another Division 4 team Leitrim by 17 points – this was another statutory lesson even for a team that won the Division 4 title.

They are simply light years behind the top sides. For Dublin it was a useful workout after their lack lustre performance against Carlow on the road. They're a different side once they get into Croke Park, though self evidently much bigger tests lie ahead as they target a seventh Leinster title and third All-Ireland on the spin.

Westmeath played the last five minutes of normal time and five of injury time with 14 men after substitute Noel Mulligan was black carded and the team had used their full allocation of six substitutes.

Their day of woe was completed when they conceded two late goals from Ciaran Kilkenny and substitute Kevin McManamon to slump to a record 31 point defeat.

Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, J Cooper, E Lowndes; D Daly, C O'Sullivan, J McCaffrey (0-1); B Fenton (0-2), J McCarthy; C Kilkenny (1-3), C O'Callaghan (0-3), N Scully; D Rock (1-5, 3f, 2 45), P Andrews (0-2), P Mannion (0-8). Subs E O'Gara (1-0) for Andrews ht; S Carthy (0-2) for Cooper 43m; D Byrne for Fitzsimons 43m; B Brogan (0-2, 1f) for Rock 47m; K McManamon (1-1) for Scully 47m; B Howard for O'Callaghan 60m

Westmeath: D Quinn; J Gonoud, K Maguire, K Daly; M Callon, F Boyle, J Dolan; A Gaughan, G Egan (0-1); C McCormack, P Sharry, K Martin (0-3); D Lynch, J Heslin (0-4, 3f), J Egan (0-2). Subs: N Mulligan for Gaughan ht; K Reilly for McCormack 49m; C Boyle for Daly 50m; S Corcoran for Egan 53m; D Glennon for Sharry 57m; A Stone for Lynch 65m

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)

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