Dublin lay down a marker

SO much for early season form not counting for much in the championship. Well, it certainly held true in Croke Park yesterday when Dublin’s near-perfect display in the Leinster SFC semi-final saw them beat Westmeath by the same margin of 27 points they had inflicted on them in the last round of the League.

And, on the day, it was no real surprise. Dubs manager Pat Gilroy agreed everything had gone right for his team while Westmeath boss Tomás O Flatharta didn’t disagree with the portrayal of the game as a ‘horror show.’ Whatever reservations people might still have about Dublin’s ability to do any better in the All-Ireland series than they managed under Paul Caffrey’s reign, it would have been difficult to find fault with them yesterday. Admittedly, their task was made easier because of the ineptitude of Westmeath but when it came to laying down a marker in the opening 15 minutes, Dublin were in a league of their own.

They monopolised the play almost from the throw-in – evidenced by the scoring of two points inside the first minute, both from Conal Keaney – and they quickly took control in defence. They played some delightful attacking football, highlighted by superb passing and textbook finishing. Notably, the recalled Jason Sherlock was to make a key contribution and full-forward Bernard Brogan set a high standard from the very start which ultimately made him the obvious choice for the man-of-the-match accolade with a total of 2-8.

Westmeath’s defence looked vulnerable from an early stage, so much so that captain John Keane was taken off Sherlock after only a couple of minutes and put over on Keaney, who had been the first to show leadership in the Dublin team. As the game developed, they continued to struggle because of their lack of competitiveness up front and an obvious weakness at midfield where Martin Flanagan (only coming back from injury) made no impact while David Duffy only performed in spells against Darren Magee.

Overall, it meant that Dublin were able to move the ball at pace and, playing a more direct style, the combination of accurate foot-passing and sensible use of the ball earned them a series of scores. They had eight points on the board before Westmeath got the first of only four first-half scores in the 11th minute.

The more the game went on, the stronger Dublin’s grip on the play became and, while Westmeath managed an improvement at half-back, mainly through Michael Ennis at wing-back, Flanagan (for a short while) and Doran Harte at wing-forward, basically they were going nowhere because of their inability to penetrate.

Denis Glennon looked strong on the ball at times and both John Connellan and Conor Lynam (who were to share seven points between them) worked hard to create opportunities, but as a unit their attack rarely threatened.

They had nobody capable of giving the type of direction which Alan Brogan provided for Dublin at centre-forward or for showing such a facility to convert chances as his younger brother Bernard, arguably the most improved member of the team from last season.

He scored the first of his two goals, in the 27th minute when Alan picked him out unmarked at the edge of the square with an exquisite pass. It saw Dublin go in at half time 1-14 to 0-4 with their place in the final almost guaranteed.

Predictably, because nothing really changed in the manner in which the game had been contested up to then, that proved to be the case. And, of course, it got worse for Westmeath in the sense that they were to concede three more goals. Their scoring return improved slightly, partly because of the way Dublin relaxed their effort at stages and also for the reason that Connellan and ex-minor Lynam showed a capability to finish well. But, the anticipated introduction of Dessie Dolan (another coming back from injury) brought them no relief because he saw little of the ball on the wing and Westmeath never once managed to settle into a rhythm. Brogan’s second goal came in the 51st minute, Darren Magee got the third seven minutes later and substitute Mossy Quinn got the other at a time when Bryan Cullen, Ciaran Whelan and Shane Ryan were all on the field. And, with the lead having risen steadily, their last score from Ross McConnell equalled the difference in the League game (5-22 to 0-10). Highly impressive, but the final with Kildare will be an entirely different matter.

Scorers for Dublin: B. Brogan 2-8 (0-5f); J. Sherlock 0-6; A. Brogan 0-4; M. Quinn 1-1; D. Magee 1-0; C. Keaney 0-3 (0-1f); P. Flynn, D. Connolly, B. Cahill and R. McConnell 0-1 each.

Scorers for Westmeath: J. Connellan 0-4; D. Glennon 0-3 frees; C. Lynam 0-3; D. O’Shaughnessy 0-1.

Subs for Dublin: P. Burke for A. Brogan (51); M. Quinn for Keaney (54); B. Cullen for Brennan (57); C. Whelan for Magee and S. Ryan for B. Brogan (61).

Subs for Westmeath: D. Healy for O’Donoghue and D. O’Shaughnessy for Flanagan (30); D. Dolan for Wilson (49); P. Sharry for Heavin (56); W. Murtagh for Ennis (62).

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