Heslin's 'Darby' nudge helps Lake men earn derby spoils
Westmeath 3-17 Offaly 0-15
Maybe it's just as well that Westmeath know all about Dublin from their last two Leinster finals … because they've just a week to devise a cunning plan to halt the Sky Blue juggernaut.
On a sun-kissed Saturday afternoon in Mullingar, they emerged from their two-game derby with Offaly feeling a lot more positive about themselves than a week earlier in Tullamore.
But they were left nursing knocks, too. They lost Paddy Holloway to a worrying early knee injury; he was followed into casualty by Callum McCormack and sub Denis Glennon.
With an eight-day turnaround to Sunday's Leinster semi-final, time may be the enemy for Tom Cribbin as much as the All-Ireland champions.
"Denis is very resilient. We could really do badly with him being back, Callum the same. Paddy's is a knee problem, it looks serious enough but we won't know until we check them all," the Westmeath boss explained.
Two summers running, Cribbin has parked the bus against Dublin (with some first half success before the dam burst) so it's difficult to decipher his post-match suggestion that "we'll just have to give it a go, I think."
Question is, are Westmeath circa 2017 a better team?
"If I didn't lose three of my key players today, I'd say 100 per cent better," said Cribbin. "But we've a few very good young lads coming as well and it may give them opportunities.
"The subs had a huge impact - Frank Boyle could have got Man of the Match, he was just superb when he came on."
Safe to say that the veteran defender doesn't normally have 0-2 in brackets after his name. Yet if Boyle led the charge from deep, John Heslin's influence was even more profound.
Westmeath's conservative use of their talisman was much criticised in the wake of the original dour stalemate.
Lesson learned: barely a minute in, a policy shift could be gleaned from Killian Daly's long delivery to a soaring Heslin, who offloaded for a Callum McCormack point.
Heslin hovered close to goal for much of the remainder, to frequently destructive effect. A final audit of his afternoon would read: 1-4 from play; two pointed frees, one earned himself; the final pass for a further 1-2.
The only negatives? Four first half wides and an injury-time black card, their bench already emptied. But that didn't dampen the rousing reception as he made his way off, job done.
His 67th minute goal was the key to killing off neighbours whose feisty resistance wasn't reflected in the eventual 11-point margin.
It even contained a hint of 'Seamus Darby', Heslin nudging James Lalor in the aerial preamble to his clinical low execution, which may explain why Offaly boss Pat Flanagan wasn't complaining afterwards.
"James Lalor is a young man and he'll learn from that," said Flanagan. "It's a little bit of experience, but if somebody did it in the Offaly camp I would have clapped him on the back for it."
Just a minute later, Heslin turned provider for Kieran Martin's point-blank finish as the Offaly wheels came off.
Not long before they had dared to dream. Recovering from John Egan's 54th minute goal and Heslin's follow-up point, they reeled off three quick points while turning up the heat on Darren Quinn's kickout.
The last of those scores came from Peter Cunningham, their inspired centre-back in name only; it was his fourth towering point from distance.
But Offaly's momentum fatally stalled after Cian Donohue walked for a heedless second yellow on 63 minutes: Westmeath would outscore the 14 men by 2-3 to 0-1 in the home straight.
For the second week running, indiscipline had cost the Faithful who now face Cavan in Tullamore next Sunday.
"The boys are on the floor in there - there's no point in saying any different," Flanagan admitted. "If they can learn from their loss today and get themselves ready for next week, that's a huge mental achievement."
SCORERS - Westmeath: J Heslin 1-6 (2f), K Martin 1-2, P Sharry 0-3 (2 '45s'), J Egan 1-0, F Boyle 0-2, C McCormack, G Egan, N Mulligan, T McDaniel 0-1 each. Offaly: N Dunne 0-5 (3f), P Cunningham 0-4, S Doyle 0-2, G Guilfoyle, N Darby (f), M Brazil, C McNamee 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH: D Quinn 7; K Maguire 7, P Holloway n/a, M McCallon 6; K Daly 6, J Gonoud 7, J Dolan 6; A Stone 5, G Egan 7; K Reilly 5, P Sharry 7, A Gaughan 7; C McCormack 6, J Heslin 9, K Martin 8. Subs: F Boyle 8 for Holloway (inj 6), D Glennon 6 for McCormack (inj 35+3), J Egan 7 for Reilly (ht), T McDaniel 7 for Glennon (inj 48), D Lynch 6 for Stone (50), N Mulligan for Gaughan (inj 69).
OFFALY: A Mulhall 6; B Darby 6, E Rigney 6, S Pender 6; N Darby 5, P Cunningham 9, C Donohue 6; C McNamee 7, D Hanlon 6; R Allen 6, G Guilfoyle 6, M Brazil 6; J Moloney 5, N Dunne 7, N McNamee 5. Subs: J Lalor 6 for N Darby (ht), B Allen 5 for N McNamee (41), A Sullivan 6 for Brazil (48), J O'Connor 6 for Rigney (inj 56), S Doyle 7 for Moloney (59), D Hogan for Hanlon (72).
REF - R Hickey (Clare)