Friday 19 January 2018

Young Dubs repay Gavin's faith to sink Westmeath


Michael Darragh Macauley races clear of the Westmeath defence during last night’s Leinster SFC game in Croke Park.
Michael Darragh Macauley races clear of the Westmeath defence during last night’s Leinster SFC game in Croke Park.

Dermot Crowe

THIS had the makings of a big Dublin win, a blue-rinse exhibition to expose the poverty gap between the top two tiers in league football. For all of Westmeath's undeniable progress, the road to where Dublin reside spreads out into the distance. How far into the distance? Last night that seemed the only question awaiting an answer, a matter of semantics; Westmeath were on offer at 7/1.

An upset needed Dublin to come back in a little but they have not shown flagrant levels of complacency throughout the spring while in Jim Gavin's care. The crowded house he keeps helps suppress any vainglorious notions; no player can make any assumptions or boasts beyond the present. The competition hasn't been as intense for places at any time in living memory.

Westmeath had earned justifiable respect and their graph is clearly in the ascendancy – last year's championship ended in a narrow qualifier defeat to Kerry. They have a tidy collection of experienced players who are proven performers in the hot summer cathedrals. Dublin have been the team of the year so far, though, with an exciting brand of attacking football and an admirable trust in young, emerging talent. Paul Mannion had his first championship start. Cormac Costello replaced Bernard Brogan late in the game, the match well won, gaining his first taste of competitive senior football.

Rory O'Carroll returned to shepherd in front of goal, and Brogan sniped away up front, and all the starting forwards scored from play. But it was a non-event and poor preparation for Kildare at the end of the month.

Westmeath's prospects grew more remote with the crushing loss of Dessie Dolan to a hamstring injury before the throw-in. Johnny Cooper, having braced himself for Dolan, instead had Ciaran Curley to look after. Westmeath needed to settle early but the reverse happened. Dublin piled up an early lead, lost some of it, then regained it again by half-time, when they led 0-12 to 0-4.

Gavin's first championship match in charge could not have been less taxing. Dublin drew first blood with a free from Brogan after six minutes and Gary Connaughton was called on to make a critical save from Mannion on the overlap seven minutes in with Westmeath overworked. Eleven minutes in, Dublin were three points up, Brogan and Paddy Andrews having registered and, ominously, John Heslin was struggling with his place-kicking.

By the end of the third quarter, the Dublin lead went to six, Westmeath still searching for their opener and the midlanders had the pallor of a men being led to the gallows. Finally, 23 minutes in, Denis Glennon ended their wait with a point from play. That set the signal for something of a charge, Dublin dozing off, and Westmeath nailing three more, two of them excellent frees from Heslin, who found his range, to halve the deficit.

The manner in which Dublin suddenly moved up a gear in response made depressing viewing for the Westmeath faithful. Brogan scored two and Andrews claimed his third from play, before Paul Flynn closed the first half with their 12th score.

With a more ruthless finishing kick, Dublin might have been more in front and they created little in the way of goalscoring chances in the first half. But they were still comfortably superior and will have had more troubling assignments in the O'Byrne Cup at the start of the year.

The challenge for Westmeath at the halfway point was to avoid a heavy beating. In 2009 Dublin walloped them in the provincial semi-finals 4-26 to 0-11, Brogan scoring 2-8. They made some spirited comebacks during this year's Division 2 campaign when in bother and that may have been of some comfort as they surveyed their position in the dressing-room at the break.

Without Dolan, the attack lacked teeth and Glennon's score was their only one from play in the opening half. Glennon tried hard after the break but the cause was hopeless.

In the second half, Dublin went more direct and Diarmuid Connolly put two goal chances wide and had another stopped on the line by Mark McCallon. Westmeath, eight points down nearing the 50th-minute mark, made a triple substitution. By then Dublin had started to use the bench as well, and the match was snailing its way to the inevitable conclusion. Westmeath worked away to avoid a whipping and at least they managed that much. They still have some football to play.

Near the end their defence was finally breached, Andrews finishing well for the game's only goal.

Scorers – Dublin: B Brogan 0-7 (0-5 fs), P Andrews 1-3; P Flynn, D Connolly 0-3; D Rock 0-2 (0-1 f); C O'Sullivan, P Mannion, J McCaffrey, C Kilkenny 0-1. Westmeath: J Heslin 0-5 (0-5 fs); D Glennon 0-2; K Martin, D Corroon 0-1.

Dublin: S Cluxton; D Daly, R O'Carroll, J Cooper; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan. Subs: K O'Brien for Daly (44); N Devereux for McCarthy (49); D Rock for Mannion (54); D Bastick for Macauley (55); C Costello for Brogan (61).

Westmeath: G Connaughton; M McCallon, K Gavin, K Maguire; D Harte, P Sharry, J Gaffey; D Duffy, J Heslin; K Martin, C McCormack, J Dolan; G Egan, D Glennon, C Curley. Subs: D Daly for Duffy, D Dolan for Harte & D Corroon for Curey (48); P Bannon for Egan (61); A Purcell for McCallon (65).

Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).

Irish Independent

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