Offaly breathe sigh of relief as Westmeath run out of steam

Offaly 2-11 Westmeath 0-14

This one was already dead in the water. Or so we thought.

By then, Offaly were 2-7 to 0-5 in front and Westmeath were having the sort of day that makes you wish you had stayed in bed. Dessie Dolan was already warming the bench after the most needless of trips had seen him yellow-carded by referee Mike Ryan five minutes before the break.

Soon after the change of ends, he was joined on the line by fellow forward Joe Fallon. Then Niall McNamee scored his second goal of the game to leave an eight-point gap between the sides and that seemed to be that.

Anything that could go wrong did so for Westmeath, with Rory O’Connell even colliding with the referee soon after McNamee’s second goal.

Then came the twist. Offaly’s Conor Evans had spent most of the afternoon giving away free after free after free. With 43 minutes played, Ryan had seen enough and sent the Ballyfore man to the line.

Seemingly from nowhere, Westmeath launched an amazing 15-minute siege on the Offaly goal.

“Fair play to Westmeath, they’re not Leinster champions for nothing,” said Offaly’s Ciaran McManus later.

“It was our own fault though. We slowed the pace of our game down for some reason and it’s hard stop a team like Westmeath when they get that sort of momentum behind them.”

When Westmeath finally began to ease off the throttle, they had pillaged seven points from a traumatised Offaly rearguard and the game was patently there for the taking.

With nine minutes to go, Denis Glennon slipped over the last of his five points and Westmeath were level. Offaly needed to slow things down and compose themselves but it was Westmeath setting the tempo.

Then, as is so often the case, the team playing catch-up simply ran out of steam after drawing level.

It was hard to escape the feeling that they needed to get their necks in front but instead it was Offaly’s Niall McNamee who struck next. The wind in Westmeath’s sails dropped even further two minutes later when O’Connell became the third of Páidí Ó Sé’s four players to be ejected.

Offaly could smell the blood and went hunting for the scores that would avenge their controversial Leinster championship defeat to their neighbours last summer.

John Reynolds obliged with the first and after David Glennon hauled one back, Colm Quinn and Roy Malone ended the suspense with two points.

The loss of local bragging rights won’t have pleased Westmeath, but Ó Sé will have been encouraged by the fighting quality shown by a team bereft of a good third of the Leinster title-winning 15 of last summer.

It had all started so promisingly for the Leinster champions before their near-meltdown in and around half-time.

Denis Glennon, displaying again the kind of power and accuracy that caused Laois so much anxiety in last year’s Leinster final, rattled off their first three points.

Both sides had racked up a litany of wides, but with 20 minutes up Westmeath were still 0-4 to 0-3 to the good. Then Offaly stepped up a gear, rattling off 1-3 in the space of six minutes, with Niall McNamee rounding Gary Connaughton for the first time and finding the net after 27 minutes.

“That was a battling display from our lads,” said Ó Sé. “I know from my own playing days that Tullamore is a hard place to come away from with a win. We redeemed ourselves with that second-half performance because we had a dismal finish to the first half.”

OFFALY: C McNamara; N Grennan, C Evans, S Brady; B Mooney (0-1), J Keane, K Slattery; C McManus, A McNamee (0-2); N Coughlan, J Kenny, J Reynolds (0-1); C Quinn (0-2f), N McNamee (2-0), J Coughlan (0-4, 1f). Subs: J Quinn for Mooney 35, M Gorman for Evans (yellow card) 43, R Malone (0-1) for J Coughlan (yellow card) 59, C Kiely for Grennan 63.

WESTMEATH: G Connaughton; J Davitt, D O’Donoghue, J Keane; M Ennis, D Kilmartin, D Heavin; R O’Connell, J Brennan; J Fallon (0-1f), D Mitchell, C Galligan (0-1); A Mangan (0-5, 4f), Denis Glennon (0-5), D Dolan. Subs: A Lambden (0-1) for Dolan (yellow card) 31, S Colleary for Fallon (yellow card) 37, David Glennon (0-1) for O’Connell (yellow card) 66, D McDermott for Galligan (yellow card) 71.

Referee: M Ryan (Limerick).

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