Gavin’s switches see Dubs home
Dublin 2-19 Westmeath 0-10
Underneath the Hogan Stand, Stephen Cluxton and Jim Gavin took turns to stress the importance of the Leinster championship to Dublin.
Cluxton now has 12 medals, four of them as captain. And in four campaigns, Gavin hasn't seen a Leinster team come closer to him than seven points. But both were toeing the party line. Each win in the province, they said, was special.
Dublin games in Leinster bring a different sort of fascination these days. How Westmeath would try and stop the juggernaut dominated the pre-game discussion. They came up with a pretty decent plan that gave them plenty of joy in the first half.
But Gavin found an answer in the second.
While the Dublin manager has a huge arsenal of talent at his disposal, his half-time switch that saw a forward in Paddy Andrews replace a defender in Eric Lowndes worked as well as he could have hoped for.
In an era of safety-first set-ups, Dublin started the second half with seven forwards on the pitch, and with Con O'Callaghan's introduction on 49 minutes, that number briefly extended to eight.
It put the squeeze on a Westmeath defence that had been coping admirably to that point. But they could do little to stem the blue tide and, just 13 minutes into the second half, Dublin were leading by double scores (0-14 to 0-7) and were out of sight.
"There's disappointment with the second half," Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin said. "Especially that first five, six minutes of the second half. We knew we had to try and hold them for that spell, they have been blowing teams away in that period. We have talked heavily on it but obviously they got their tactics very right at half-time."
Cribbin could see the switch but moving to counteract it was difficult, and he agreed that Gavin played his hand expertly.
"We could see Cian (O'Sullivan) going to wing-back and they had seven forwards and they changed it around straight away.
"You need to be able to talk to your five defenders all at once. At that stage, we nearly needed to go zonal, the way they were pulling us. But it's very difficult to get that message out from the sideline once the game starts. So (Gavin) got the element of surprise in the second half."
In the end, it was a hammering. Brilliant goals from Bernard Brogan, after the Dubs moved the ball the length of the field, and a trademark finish from Kevin McManamon were the icing on the cake in a 15-point win.
However, there was little sign of a rout in the first half when Westmeath appeared to have the balance of their team right. Francis Boyle and Callum McCormack acted as sweepers in front of their full-back line and they did the job expertly, snuffing out Dublin attacks. In front of that pair, Westmeath set up a wall on their '45' and made their stand there.
They were disciplined and edgy in defence, but crucially, they left themselves with enough forwards up front to have an out-ball. Although Westmeath never led in the game, Dublin got no further than two points ahead in the opening period and led by the minimum at the break (0-7 to 0-6).
Things heated up considerably on 30 minutes when a scuffle involving Diarmuid Connolly and James Dolan saw several players get involved in a pushing match.
Cribbin admitted afterwards that Westmeath were hoping to get the brilliant St Vincent's man "excited".
"I honestly didn't see it. Look, I think there was nothing in it really. And look, Diarmuid is a fabulous player. He can get a bit exciting at times and probably, we were looking for him to get excited.
"We needed a whammy. We have to be fair. We have to be honest. We were hoping to try and entice him.
"Sure that's what most teams do. But he's a fabulous footballer. Just a fabulous footballer. One of the best in the country, if not the best."
When Cribbin's comments were put to Gavin, he was unmoved.
"It wouldn't be the first time that we've seen it. Their No 7 raised his hand and made the contact with Diarmuid's head. I thought the (officials) managed the game very well. Some of our boys reacted and spoke out to the referee and he moved the ball forward.
"I think they might have got a point from that maybe so that's what you want to see, good decisive officialdom and refereeing, and I thought they did well.
"But we expect our players to stand up for themselves as well and both of them got a yellow card. I think that was a fair assessment of that particular incident."
Westmeath felt the full force of Dublin in the second half but Cribbin insists his side will make a better fist of their last-12 clash this time around than they did in 2015.
"The lads were disgusted with themselves last year, the way they performed against Fermanagh," he said.
"They know we have to lift it and it is probably going to be a help that the match is up here because that inspires everyone to play at your top."
Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-8 (8fs), B Brogan 1-4, K McManamon 1-2, P Andrews 0-2, J Small, D Connolly, P Flynn 0-1 each. Westmeath: J Heslin 0-6 (5fs), G Egan 0-2, C McCormack, D Corroon 0-1 each.
Dublin: S Cluxton 8; J Cooper 7, D Byrne 8, P McMahon 7; J Small 7, C O'Sullivan 7, E Lowndes 6; B Fenton 8, MD Macauley 6; P Flynn 6, C Kilkenny 6, D Connolly 7; K McManamon 8, D Rock 7, B Brogan 8. Subs: P Andrews 8 for Lowndes (ht), C O'Callaghan 6 for Macauley (49), D Bastick 6 for Connolly (52), D Daly 6 for Small (57), M Fitzsimons 6 for O'Sullivan (60), P Mannion for Rock (63).
Westmeath: D Quinn 6; K Daly 6, F Boyle 7, J Gonoud 6; K Maguire 6, J Dolan 7, D Lynch 6; D Corroon 7, G Egan 7; A Stone 6, P Sharry 6, R Connellan 7; J Heslin 7, K Martin 6, C McCormack 7. Subs: D Daly 6 for R Connellan (35), S Corcoran 6 for Lynch (52), S Duncan 6 for Daly (55), J Connellan 6 for Martin (59), R Gorman for Maguire (61), D McNicholas for Sharry (65).
Ref - F Kelly (Longford).
Game at a glance
Man of the match - Bernard Brogan (Dublin)
Finished the day with 1-4 and the long-serving forward is operating at a high level of efficiency just now.
Despite Westmeath's good show in the first half, Dublin moved easily into the last eight of the All-Ireland series. How battle-ready are they?
Dublin's first goal was the result of a move that went almost the whole length of the field and saw corner-back Johnny Cooper get a clever flick on to Brian Fenton, who in turn fed Brogan who hit the net.
Ref watch - Fergal Kelly (Longford)
Solid job on a day where the only real flashpoint was the clash between Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly and Westmeath's James Dolan.
Dublin move on to an All-Ireland quarter-final against a Round 4 qualifier winner on August 6. Westmeath go into this morning's qualifier draw.