Derry, since their promotion last year, have made major improvements as a team. Nationally, the absence of Eoin Bradley has taken the focus off a much more rounded unit, one that now plays off a full-forward rather than to a full-forward.
Westmeath simply couldn’t cope and were lucky to go in within seven points at half-time. Two goals in the space of a minute opened up a chasm between the sides and only some over-elaboration denied Derry more than two first-half majors.
The Lakemen were struggling to get to grips defensively. The height of Cailean O’Boyle caused problems and led to the corner-backs being switched straight after the Lavey man had rounded Stephen Gallagher and used the underside of the bar to find the net.
Fergal Doherty and Mark Lynch were on top at midfield and that led to John Heslin moving across and Paul Sharry going to wing-forward, a change which did make a slight difference.
Derry’s pace on the wings was something that Paul Bealin’s side couldn’t live with, and they were often left chasing shadows, particularly that of Sean Leo McGoldrick.
The two early goals effectively killed the game. Four minutes in, Derry were 2-0 to 0-1 ahead and with Kevin Johnston fisting over and Mark Lynch adding a free, it was a seven-point gap inside eight minutes.
Lynch finished with six points on an afternoon where all six Derry forwards got on the scoresheet. It is nothing unusual for Brian McIver’s side. Against Tyrone they had nine different scorers, against Kerry it was eight, and it was nine again in front of a small crowd at Celtic Park yesterday.
Westmeath, by contrast, offered little as an attacking threat beyond the frees of John Heslin. He had the measure of them with the breeze at his back in the first half, and accounted for four of his side’s six first-half points.
Derry should have had more than two first-half goals. Kevin Johnston’s low shot from 10 yards was well saved by Gallagher, while Mark Lynch drove a low shot wide when O’Boyle was available for a simple goal had the pass come. That was the only negative the home side would have taken from a first half at the end of which they led by 2-7 to 0-6.
Westmeath tried further surgery at the interval but it was merely cosmetic. Sharry moved to wing-back but was taken off early in the second half. James Dolan moved from wing-back to corner-forward, but it summed up his side’s day that he fisted over a gaping goal when it looked easier to find the net.
Derry made no such mistake with their one real goal chance of the second half, one constructed by the interminable running of McGoldrick. Through the gap he went and ruthlessly squared the ball across a crowded goalmouth, and Emmett McGuckin palmed it home.
That made it 3-11 to 0-8 after 47 minutes, and the game died a slow death after that.
The scoring was fittingly finished by McGoldrick, who displayed the full repertoire by kicking off his weaker left foot, to leave Derry joint second behind Cork, where they travel to next weekend.
That there were no points for Westmeath to take was bad enough, but that there weren’t even any positives is more worrying still.
Scorers for Derry: M Lynch 0-6 (4f), E McGuckin 1-1, B Heron, C O’Boyle 1-0 each, J Kielt (1f), C McFaul, E Lynn 0-2 each, K Johnston, SL McGoldrick 0-1 each.
Scorers for Westmeath: J Heslin 0-7 (5f), G Egan 0-2, K Martin, D Dolan, J Dolan 0-1 each.
Subs for Derry: P Bradley for Doherty (48), C Kielt for Johnston (55), N Holly for J Kielt (55), A Kerrigan for Lynn (60), O Duffy for McKaigue (63), C McWilliams for McAlynn (63).
Subs for Westmeath: J Gonoud for J Egan (37), D McCormack for Connellan (45), S Flynn for Sharry (47), G Hoey for C McCormack (54), D Corroon for Martin (54).
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo).
Derry’s second from Denny Heron after four minutes and the game was over.
There were Derry supporters, rather ironically, complaining that they didn’t kick on in the last 20 minutes. There has been little for them to complain about so far under Brian McIver.
Having pushed Derry all the way in the Division 2 league final last year, Westmeath’s rate of progression looked a million miles shy of Derry’s.
Hardly a minute of the game went by without Sean Leo McGoldrick getting his hands on the ball. Time the country woke up to his talents.
It might not have been much of a contest but Michael Duffy should have shown at least four. At least. Chrissy McKaigue and Steven Gilmore were particularly lucky.
Mark Lynch played well at midfield against expectation, while Derry’s blend of pace and strength continues to pay dividends. That Westmeath were the ones making all the changes to try and cope tells its own story.
It was of little consequence what Michael Duffy did but how he didn’t use his black card was beyond belief.
Derry face a top-of-the-table clash in Páirc Uí Rinn this weekend, while Westmeath must try to lift themselves to face Mayo, on a high after beating Kerry.