Wednesday 17 January 2018

Eugene McGee: I don't think winning a Grand Final in Melbourne can match that yesterday for John Heslin

28 June 2015; Westmeath's Kevin Maguire, left, and John Heslin celebrate after the game. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Westmeath v Meath. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
28 June 2015; Westmeath's Kevin Maguire, left, and John Heslin celebrate after the game. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Westmeath v Meath. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Westmeath selector Gary Connaughton (right) goes to celebrate with manager Tom Cribbin after the game DÁIRE BRENNAN/SPORTSFILE
Jim Gavin is hoping to lead his Dublin team to regain the All-Ireland title
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

We have to hand it to the GAA. Despite all the laments about a one-sided championship and domination by large counties, what we witnessed in Croke Park yesterday during the Meath versus Westmeath Leinster semi-final could only come from an organisation like the GAA.

These neighbouring counties had met 22 times in the championship since 1935 with Meath unbeaten on all occasions prior to yesterday.

And not alone did Westmeath make history but they did so in style.

They came from nine points down at one stage to win the game in an absolutely dramatic fashion by four points against one of the greatest of all traditional county teams, Meath.

At half-time we were all making jokes about another diabolical Leinster mismatch when the scoreboard read Meath 2-12 Westmeath 1 -7.

The latter were in total disarray in that opening period. Several players seemed confused about where they should be playing or who they were marking.

Westmeath players Kevin Maguire, left, and John Heslin, celebrate after the game
Westmeath players Kevin Maguire, left, and John Heslin, celebrate after the game

Even though he got forward to score a vital goal, centre-back Kieran Martin was one of them as he stood too far off Pádraic Harnan. This left gaps that Meath's forwards exploited fully, particularly Bryan McMahon and Eamonn Wallace who kicked some magnificent scores.

Midfield was the only area where Westmeath managed to play on level terms. Only for that foothold, the game would definitely have been over by half-time.

The irony is that it was Martin who tore the Meath defence to pieces in the second half.

Much credit for this result should also go to manager Tom Cribbin, a man who has not had much luck with other teams he has managed.

He had sussed out the Meath players to a tee and exploited the weaknesses that had been obvious over the past 15 months.

But it is players, not managers, that win games and how these Westmeath lads responded to Cribben's promptings.

Underage football has been very well looked after in the county for the past 20 years and there is no shortage of talent.

Many other counties, including Meath, have a lot to learn from them in that regard.

I watched Longford beat Meath in the Leinster minor semi-final on Saturday and there was an obvious paucity of quality players wearing the Royal colours.

Along with Martin, John Heslin played the most important role in this shock victory because he was ever-present.

He was always up with the action, kicked some fine points from frees and then scored the brilliant goal to seal the result. John has Leitrim connections and an uncle of his starred for that county in the past while John himself also dabbled in Australian Rules. I doubt if winning a Grand Final in Melbourne would match the sense of achievement he will derive from yesterday's result.

The most amazing aspect of this game was that Westmeath, despite their terrible record against Meath, completely subdued them in the second half.

They held Meath to 0-1 in the final 23 minutes while scoring 2-8 themselves.

Some great Meath players of old must be turning in their graves at that statistic.

Westmeath will be complete outsiders when they play Dublin, but this year can already be deemed a success after yesterday's dramatic result.

They can face Dublin with nothing to lose and are guaranteed a place in the last 12, just one game away from an All-Ireland quarter-final. All in all, not a bad day's work in Croker.

Kildare's Alan Smith tries to escape the attentions of Dublin players (left to right) John Small, Rory O'Carroll, and Cian O'Sullivan DÁIRE BRENNAN/SPORTSFILE

Facile wins no use to Dubs - or the rest

At this stage the Dublin footballers must be delighted to get playing a Leinster Championship game because it gives them a chance to relax and have a bit of craic, in contrast to the legendary training sessions they have to endure as they hammer the divil out of each other in search of a starting place.

Because a bit of craic is all that is involved in these Leinster senior championship games and what a change that is when people like me look back on all the massive contests that have taken place all over the province between Dublin and the other counties.

These facile results of course are of absolutely no use to Jim Gavin and his team as they seek to regain the All Ireland title which means that no county in Leinster, apart from Westmeath, of course, seems to be very happy about the state of the game in the province.

Once again, as in the Longford game, this contest was over after just 12 minutes when Dublin led by 2-3 to 0-2. We all knew even at that stage that Kildare were not going to win and it was a case of damage limitation for the remainder of the game.

Kildare fared no better or worse than all the other Leinster teams who have suffered at the hands and feet of a vastly superior set of players.

Based on my own time as manager, I cannot accept that counties like Meath and Kildare at least are not capable of seriously challenging Dublin.

Have they all got so dazzled by the aura of the Dubs that the others are afraid to get stuck in, apply themselves to curbing some key Dublin players and increasing the level of physicality that SHOULD be taking place in these Leinster games but no longer is.

In the 1970s Dublin had as good a team or better than the present one.

They won three All-Irelands in that decade, and several Leinster counties were able to take them to the pins of their collars.

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