Westmeath advance to Leinster SFC semi-final with convincing win over Offaly
WESTMEATH 3-17 OFFALY 0-15
IT reads like a rout – 11 points separated Westmeath from their vanquished Offaly rivals in TEG Cusack Park today. But that scoreline doesn't tell the full story of a Leinster SFC quarter-final replay that ebbed and flowed in a manner that kept the 4,714 attendance on tenterhooks for more than an hour.
When John Egan fisted home from point-blank range in the 54th minute, all courtesy of a Westmeath breakaway move and brilliant approach work by Kieran Martin, the hosts led by 1-13 and 0-11 and it felt like game-over.
Even more so when John Heslin pointed a minute later.
But from six adrift, Offaly suddenly reignited, applied the heat on Darren Quinn's kickout and were rewarded with three rapid-fire points around the hour-mark. These scores came via sub Seán Doyle, Nigel Dunne and Peter Cunningham, bringing the nominal centre-back's haul to an incredible 0-4 from play.
Westmeath looked rattled, their lead trimmed to three. But then Cian Donohue lunged into an ill-advised lunge on Egan, drawing the inevitable second yellow.
Their rivals took a deep breath and accelerated down the home straight. Skipper Ger Egan crowned a big second half with his first point. Then Heslin, their go-to man throughout, soared to collect a raking free from Paul Sharry in the 67th minute.
It looked a possible foul on James Lalor, but the whistle never came from Rory Hickey and the St Loman's man finished low, with ice-veined aplomb, to bring his 'Man of the Match' tally to 1-6, all bar two points from play.
A minute later, it became a ten-point game and this time Heslin was the provider for Martin to fist home from a matter of yards.
Offaly, utterly bereft, must now pick themselves up for a home qualifier with Cavan tomorrow week. Whereas Westmeath, shaken and stirred by last Sunday's lucky day-one escape, must gird themselves for the Dublin beast in a Croke Park semi-final on the same day.
Wonders will never cease … after the abject conservatism of last Sunday's original stalemate, a game of football belatedly broke out in this afternoon's Mullingar sequel.
As with six days earlier, Westmeath started with the wind but it wasn't nearly as significant a factor. This time, they opened with far more ambition and the initial decision to keep Heslin at full-forward reaped an early dividend.
The Westmeath No 14 – this year's Allianz League top-scorer by a country mile – was the dominant character in a first half that finished with the hosts 0-9 to 0-5 ahead.
It wasn't a flawless 35 minutes – he had more wides, four, than points, three – but he set the agenda with a brilliant catch and lay-off for Callum McCormack to open the scoring after 65 seconds.
He quickly added his own score from play, leaving Eoin Rigney in a twist before nailing an excellent left-footed point from the right wing.
It wasn't all one-way traffic, however, and Offaly steadied themselves with points from Graham Guilfoyle and a Dunne free, the latter stemming from a costly Killian Daly fumble.
By then, Tom Cribbin had suffered an early blow, losing Paddy Holloway to a nasty looking injury. However, his veteran replacement, Frank Boyle, proceeded to play a stormer in both halves.
Boyle followed up Kieran Martin's lead point with his own score from distance as Offaly paid the price for standing off the veteran defender.
When Heslin landed a brace, from play and his own free, Westmeath were four clear and seemingly poised to push on.
But again, Offaly refused to go away and by the half-hour they were just two adrift, following booming points from Cunningham and Michael Brazil.
By then, Westmeath had spurned a glorious goal chance after a defence-shredding move as Martin sought to tee up the inrushing Daly for a far-post flick-in only to overcook his handpass.
Sharry wasn't far behind Heslin in terms of first half influence, and he finished with a flourish – his second '45' and then a left-footed point set up by Heslin.
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; K Maguire, P Holloway, M McCallon; K Daly, J Gonoud, J Dolan; A Stone, G Egan; K Reilly, P Sharry, A Gaughan; C McCormack, J Heslin, K Martin. Subs: F Boyle for Holloway (inj 6), D Glennon for McCormack (inj 35+3), J Egan for Reilly (ht), T McDaniel for Glennon (inj 48), D Lynch for Stone (50), N Mulligan for Gaughan (inj 69).
OFFALY: A Mulhall; B Darby, E Rigney, S Pender; N Darby, P Cunningham, C Donoghue; C McNamee, D Hanlon; R Allen, G Guilfoyle, M Brazil; J Moloney, N Dunne, N McNamee. Subs: J Lalor for N Darby (ht), B Allen for N McNamee (41), A Sullivan for Brazil (48), J O'Connor for Rigney (inj 56), S Doyle for Moloney (59), D Hogan for Hanlon (72).
REF: R Hickey (Clare).