Monday 19 February 2018

'We expect our players to stand up for themselves' - Jim Gavin defends players as Westmeath admit they targeted Connolly


Diarmuid Connolly and James Dolan tussle and (inset) Jim Gavin and Tom Cribben after the match
Diarmuid Connolly and James Dolan tussle and (inset) Jim Gavin and Tom Cribben after the match
Players from both Dublin and Westmeath tussle during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship at Croke Park . Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan of Dublin in action against Killian Daly of Westmeath
Conor McKeon

Conor McKeon

Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin has revealed that, in advance of today’s Leinster final against Dublin at Croke Park, there was a plan in place to antagonise Diarmuid Connolly.

Of course, Connolly was at the heart of a mass scuffle in the first half when he dragged James Dolan to the turf in a headlock. Subsequently, both players were shown a yellow card. According to Cribbin, getting Connollly agitated was thought of in advance.

“I honestly didn’t see it. Look, I think there was nothing in it really. I don’t really know. And look, Diarmuid is a fabulous player,” he said after the Dubs' ultimately routine victory.

“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 statement was put to his opposite number, Jim Gavin,  the Dublin boss was almost indifferent in his reaction.

Bernard Brogan of Dublin scores his side's first goal
Bernard Brogan of Dublin scores his side's first goal

“It wouldn't be the first time that we've seen it. Their number seven 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.”

Little flecks of encouragement for all those with designs on Dublin’s All-Ireland title this autumn but ultimately, more of the same in Croke Park.

Jim Gavin’s team became the first to win six Leinster titles in a row since the most storied football side ever to come from the capital; Kevin Heffernan’s of 1974 to ’79 and in doing so, mowed down Westmeath.

But they were, at least, forced to figure it out here.

Kevin McManamon of Dublin in action against Jamie Gonoud of Westmeath
Kevin McManamon of Dublin in action against Jamie Gonoud of Westmeath

In a break with recent tradition, they struggled to find their gear until the second half against a Westmeath team playing in their second successive provincial final and especially early on, showed the fruits of that experience.

At half-time, Dublin led by just a point and a jagged, tense game.

Westmeath played it well.

After a build-up during which they stated their intentions to take the fight to Dublin in a more comprehensive way than they did in last year’s Leinster decider, the 25/1 outsiders frustrated the All-Ireland champions in the first half.

Dublin and Westmeath tussle during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final
Dublin and Westmeath tussle during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final

They attacked in bigger numbers but also, with more certainty about what they trying to achieve.

Francis Boyle and Calum McCormack swept.

Mostly, they played with John Heslin and Kieran Martin as an inside forward pairing with Ray Connellan operating as a link man until an awkward fall in the 35th minute forced his removal.

Connellan recently signed a contract with AFL club St Kildare, though the pain caused by the fall which looked localised to his knee, was self-evident.

For Westmeath, his loss particularly in the air, was palpable.

Tension spilled over, too.

Diarmuid Connolly and James Dolan grappled late in the half, as players from both teams became embroiled in meaty enough exchanges, though the yellow cards dished out to both killed the mood.

As the whistle went after eight minutes of injury-time, Westmeath supporters rose in loud celebration of their team’s effort and there and then, you could easily construct an argument for a competitive second-half.

Yet the most impressive part of the day was how Dublin adapted in the second half and accelerated towards the Delaney Cup.

Gavin responded with the unusual move of taking off a defender – Eric Lowndes – and replacing him with a forward, Paddy Andrews.

And in essence, they played the important part of the second-half with seven forwards pushed up on Westmeath’s defence.

At one stage, Dublin had eight recognised forwards on the pitch.

The effects were both obvious and immediate.

Within 33 seconds, Bernard Brogan had snapped off a second point and Dublin outscored Westmeath by 0-10 to 0-1 in the first 20 minutes of the second half to kill the game.

Brogan – who finished with 1-4 – finished a sweet move and a squared pass from Brian Fenton and with Westmeath so stretched in search of scores, Dublin opened them up again for a rifled goal from Kevin McManamon in the 69th minute.

In the end, they beat Westmeath by two points more than last year and their second half haul of haul of 2-12 may just be their most impressive display of late in a Leinster Championship they have turned into their own personal fiefdom.

SCORERS – Dublin:D Rock 0-8 (8f), B Brogan 1-4, K McManamon 1-2,  P Andrews 0-2, J Small, P Flynn, D Connolly 0-1 each. Westmeath: J Heslin 0-6 (5f), G Egan 0-2, D Corroon, C McCormack 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; C Cooper, D Byrne, P McMahon; J Small, C O’Sullivan, E  Lowndes; B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; K McManamon, D Rock, B Brogan. Subs: P Andrews for Lowndes (h-t), C O’Callaghan for Macauley (48), D Bastick for Connolly (52), D Daly for Small (56), M Fitzsimons for O’Sullivan (60), P Mannion for Rock (63).

WESTMEATH: D Quinn; K Daly, F Boyle, J Conoud; K Maguire, J Dolan, D Lynch; D Corroon, G Egan; A Stone, P Sharry, R Connellan; J Heslin, K Martin, C McCormack. Subs: D Daly for R Connellan (35 inj), S Corcoran for Lynch (53), S Duncan for K Daly (55), J Connellan for Martin (59), D McNicholas for Sharry (65)

REF: F Kelly (Longford)

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