Heslin brings Faithful fightback to grinding halt
Westmeath 3-17 Offaly 0-15
This looks comprehensive and if the final scoreline is the sole arbiter then it was. But the final score does not tell the full story. Offaly were within two points of Westmeath with 62 minutes played and had serious momentum behind them. They'd rallied with three scores in two minutes, the third from an outstanding Peter Cunningham, but then the floor collapsed beneath them.
Some was misfortune, some was of their own making. First off, wing-back Cian Donohoe, already on a card, committed a witless challenge that earned him a dismissal and Offaly were forced to play out the remainder with 14 men. The break in play also stemmed their flow and allowed Westmeath vital breathing space. The home team looked to have take a commanding position when sub John Egan goaled in the 54th minute, set up by Kieran Martin after good approach work by Paul Sharry. That prised open a five-point lead and their best player, John Heslin, quickly made it six.
Offaly's response raised hope among the travelling support in an attendance of 4,714 but the sending-off wheeled the game away from them. Three minutes later, they were done: Heslin appeared to push James Lalor while catching a dropping ball, before applying a neat finish. Heslin was in irrepressible form. He finished with 1-6 and set up another 1-2, the goal coming from Martin in the 68th minute with Offaly beyond salvation.
The win brings Westmeath to Croke Park next Sunday for a tilt at Dublin and repeat of last year's provincial final which Dublin won by 15 points. The flying finish will do their confidence no harm in preparing for that monumental challenge. Apart from Heslin and Martin in the full-forward line, they had an outstanding contribution from Frank Boyle, scorer of two points, who was an early replacement for the injured full-back Kevin Maguire. Ger Egan also turned in a massive second-half performance in the middle of the field.
Their manager Tom Cribbin expressed concern over the list of injuries that saw three players leave prematurely but hailed the input of those who came off the bench. "I think we need things to go right," he said of the Dublin game, "but we have a better panel this year. Today was massive for us; local derbies are really tough games."
They were the better team and well deserved their victory but Offaly refused to die easily. Cunningham had a centre-back's number on his back but he pushed up the field frequently and had a dramatic impact, scoring four classy points from play, and winning another free that was converted. But they struggled to find a serious attacking performance and Niall McNamee, who is returning from long term-injury, was a shadow of his former self. He was taken off, scoreless, after 41 minutes.
They found Heslin impossible to subdue and for the second half it came as no surprise when Eoin Rigney was relieved of the duty of marking him, the task handed to Lalor. They must now recover their spirits in time to face Cavan in the qualifiers in Tullamore next Sunday evening.
This was a much more entertaining match than the drawn game in Tullamore six days earlier. Heslin scored three first-half points as the home side led 0-9 to 0-5 at the interval, having played with the light breeze. Westmeath were never behind, taking an early lead when Killian Daly started hit a diagonal ball to Heslin who laid off to Callum McCormack for a point in the second minute. Heslin added a second before Graham Guilfoyle replied for Offaly in the fourth minute and Nigel Dunne levelled from a ninth-minute free, after a handling error and foul by Daly.
Westmeath opened up a four-point lead by the 14th minute, before Offaly recovered with three of the next four points to close to within two on the half hour. The visitors had their first goal scare nearing the half-hour mark when Martin's handpass across an open goal failed to find Daly, delivered much too high. They had another let-off early in the second half when sub Denis Glennon struck the crossbar. With Cunningham prompting, Offaly could have drawn level but missed chances midway through the half. Egan's goal damaged them, but not irrevocably, and they came again before the late capitulation.
Scorers - Westmeath: J Heslin 1-6 (0-2fs); K Martin 1-2; J Egan 1-0; P Sharry 0-3 (0-2 '45s'), F Boyle 0-2, C McCormack, G Egan, N Mulligan, T McDaniel 0-1. Offaly: N Dunne 0-5 (0-3fs); P Cunningham 0-4; S Daly, G Guilfoyle, M Brazil, N Darby (f), C McNamee, S Doyle 0-1.
Westmeath: D Quinn; K Maguire, P Holloway, M McCallon; K Daly, J Gonoud, J Dolan; A Stone, G Egan; A Gaughan, P Sharry, K Reilly; C McCormack, J Heslin, K Martin. Subs: F Boyle for Holloway (inj 6 mins); D Glennon for McCormack (inj 38); J Egan for Reilly (h-t); T McDaniel for Glennon (inj 48); D Lynch for Stone (50); N Mulligan for Gaughan (inj 68); No replacement for Heslin (black card, 72).
Offaly: A Mulhall; S Pender, E Rigney, B Darby; N Darby, P Cunningham, C Donohoe; C McNamee, D Hanlon; N Dunne, J Moloney, M Brazil; R Allen, G Guilfoyle, N McNamee. Subs: J Lalor for N Darby (h-t); B Allen for McNamee (41); A Sullivan for Brazil (48); J O'Connor for Rigney (56); S Doyle for Moloney (59); D Hogan for Hanlon (72).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)
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