Tuesday 16 January 2018

Dublin make statement of intent with massacre of wretched Westmeath

Dublin 4-29 Westmeath 0-10

Bernard Brogan of Dublin in action against Noel Mulligan of Westmeath. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan of Dublin in action against Noel Mulligan of Westmeath. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Humiliations don't come any more painful than this. However and whenever Westmeath sift through the debris of a merciless demolition job, they won't find any unbroken parts.

Dublin took them apart line-by-line and sector-by-sector as they ran up their biggest Leinster Championship total since hitting Longford for 10-13 in 1960.

Jim Gavin's crew didn't even have to do anything special to overwhelm opposition who lost their way after a spirited opening. By half-time, their case was well and truly tried, leaving them facing an excruciating second-half which must have felt like an eternity.

Rules demand that an appropriate amount of stoppage time is added but nobody would have complained if referee Conor Lane blew the final whistle right on the 70-minute mark.

Dublin's Paddy Andrews battles with Alan Gaughan of Westmeath. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin's Paddy Andrews battles with Alan Gaughan of Westmeath. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Instead, Westmeath had to endure five more minutes in hell, during which Dublin added 1-3, taking the winning margin out to 31 points.

It certainly wasn't the test they expected ahead of the Leinster final clash with Kildare, who won't have learned a whole lot from watching video re-runs of an embarrassing mis-match.

Everyone knows how efficient Dublin are when given room and time to operate but nobody expected Westmeath to be so accommodating in their own destruction process.

Much of the build-up centred on whether Westmeath would be more adventurous than in the last two Leinster finals, which they lost to Dublin by 15 and 13 points respectively.

Their supporters were demanding an approach that went beyond keeping the losing margin in the respectable zone. It hadn't worked so why not try a more positive plan?

Fine in theory, but if it was to have a chance of working, players had to perform well on an individual basis. Unfortunately for Westmeath, that was the first failure as errors abounded right from the start, allowing Dublin to build momentum with effortless ease.

Dublin's Paddy Andrews battles against James Dolan of Westmeath during the match. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Dublin's Paddy Andrews battles against James Dolan of Westmeath during the match. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Westmeath enjoyed some good moments in the first 15 minutes, including powerful runs from Kieran Martin, which bothered Michael Fitzsimons, but there were ominous signs too.

They struggled on their kick-outs from the start and once Dublin got possession, the marking wasn't nearly tight enough.

Westmeath also failed to disrupt Dublin's angles of running and when they won possession their build-ups were too slow.

It was level at 0-4 each after 12 minutes but that was as good as it got for Westmeath. Dublin kicked five points in the next eight minutes and came close to scoring two goals.

There was a limit to how long Westmeath could hang on and breaking point arrived in the 28th minute when Eric Lowndes played Dean Rock in for Dublin's first goal.

They led by 1-15 to 0-5 at half-time, leaving Westmeath with an impossible task for which they were hopelessly ill-equipped.

Dublin's Niall Scully of Dublin in action against Mark McCallon of Westmeath at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin's Niall Scully of Dublin in action against Mark McCallon of Westmeath at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

The body language of the Westmeath players as they returned for the second-half pointed to a group who realised they were trapped in the middle of a horrible experience with no escape route.

They were right. Paul Mannion, who finished the day on 0-8 - all from play, kicked the first two points and while Westmeath managed three points in the third quarter, it looked like a case of Dublin losing concentration.

However, they corrected that minor problem and turned the final quarter, which they won by 2-11 to 0-1, into one of the most one-sided periods in Croke Park for a very long time.

Jim Gavin began rolling out his support troops at half-time, sending Eoghan O'Gara on for Paddy Andrews and added Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManamon, Shane Carthy, David Byrne and Brian Howard to the execution squad in the second-half.

O'Gara, McManamon, Brogan and Carthy scored 2-5 between them and with Mannion continuing to torment the Westmeath defence, the exit gates were enjoying a thriving trade from around the 50th minute.

By the end, 11 Dublin players were on the scoresheet while only four Westmeath men hit the target as the day went from bad to worse to awful.

The misery was compounded late on when sub Noel Mulligan was sent off on a black card, forcing Westmeath to finish with 14 players, having already used their six subs.

The big challenge now facing Westmeath is how they restore any degree of confidence ahead of the qualifiers.

Unlike Carlow, who put in a defiant performance against Dublin, albeit still losing by 12 points, Westmeath's collapse will surely have inflicted psychological damage.

Granted, there were three divisions between them and Dublin in the Allianz League but they should still have done better. Instead, it was as if their layer of self-belief was so thin it smashed under the merest of scratches. It's now in a pretty bad way and manager Tom Cribbin has only 12 days for repair work.

Meanwhile, Dublin will begin preparations for a seventh successive Leinster final without having got a real test. Carlow's defensive approach bothered them in the quarter-final but there was never the remotest chance of an upset.

An A v B training game would have been more demanding for Dublin than yesterday's non-event. Still, Gavin will be pleased with the attacking side of their game, which was quick, crisp and inventive.

Mannion's opportunism was most impressive; Ciaran Kilkenny whizzed all over the place; Con O'Callaghan scored three points in the first 25 minutes and subs Brogan, McManamon and Carthy did well.

Granted, Westmeath's defensive resistance was pathetically weak but there was still plenty to admire about the offensive side of Dublin's game.

Brian Fenton and James McCarthy controlled midfield while, apart from early on, the defence locked down the Westmeath attack with surprising ease.

It won't be nearly as easy against a Kildare forward line that scored a 3-37 against Laois and Meath.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that Kildare have played Division 2 and 3 opposition all season so whether they can impose their game on the most successful team in the land in recent years remains to be seen.

They will certainly be more competitive than Westmeath who appeared to run out of ideas once the game began to run away from them.

They needed their leaders to stand up strong but it didn't happen. Personal battles were lost all over the place and, as inevitably happens when a team is being over-run, they look less fit than their opponents.

Westmeath struggled with Dublin's pace from the start and, in the second-half, they stood so far off their opponents that Dublin could pretty much do as they liked.

Indeed, with a little more precision, Dublin would have scored a few more goals. Not that it mattered a whole lot because nothing could have made Westmeath's performance look more wretched than it was.

Coming eight days after Kildare's easy win over Meath in the first semi-final, it was another serious blow to the Leinster Championship, which has lacked competitiveness for quite some time.

A crowd of 33,370 - down 5,000 on last year's Leinster final attendance between the same counties - turned out yesterday but one suspects a re-match next season would result in a sizeable decline.

Westmeath brought a loyal band of followers who will have felt let down by a dreadful performance which they never saw coming after the big win over Offaly a week earlier.

But then there's a world of difference between playing Division 3 opposition and the All-Ireland champions at a time when they are cranking up their three-in-a-row bid.

Westmeath discovered that in a manner that leaves them facing the ultimate test of character as they look down the qualifier route.

Scorers - Dublin: P Mannion 0-8, D Rock 1-5 (3f, 2'45's), C Kilkenny 1-3, K McManamon 1-1, E O'Gara 1-0, C O'Callaghan 0-3, P Andrews, B Fenton, S Carthy, B Brogan (1f) 0-2 each, J McCaffrey 0-1. Westmeath: J Heslin 0-4 (3f), K Martin 0-3, J Egan 0-2, G Egan 0-1.

Dublin - S Cluxton 7; M Fitzsimons 7, J Cooper 7, E Lowndes 8; D Daly 6, C O'Sullivan 7, J McCaffrey 7; B Fenton 8, J McCarthy 7; C Kilkenny 8, P Andrews 7, N Scully 7; P Mannion 9, C O'Callaghan 8, D Rock 7. Subs: E O'Gara 7 for Andrews (h-t), S Carthy 7 for Cooper (43), D Byrne 7 for Fitzsimons (43), B Brogan 7 for Rock (47), K McManamon 7 for Scully (47), B Howard 6 for O'Callaghan (61).

Westmeath - D Quinn 6; J Gonoud 6, K Maguire 5, F Boyle 5; M McCallion 5, K Daly 5, J Dolan 5; G Egan 5, J Heslin 4; A Gaughan 4, P Sharry 5, C McCormack 4; J Egan 5, K Martin 6, D Lynch 4.

Subs: N Mulligan 5 for Gaughan (h-t), K Reilly 5 for McCormack (49),C Boyle 5 for Daly (50), S Corcoran 5 for J Egan (53), D Glennon 5 for Sharry (57, A Stone for Lynch (64)..

REF - C Lane (Cork)

Irish Independent

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