Dublin panzers won’t be stopped

Leinster SFC final

Dublin panzers won’t be stopped

No point in beating around the bush here. Dublin will win, Westmeath will lose, and life will go on.

The curiosity for most observers is in how Dublin will win, how Westmeath will lose and how life will go on for both.

Will Dublin be tested? Will any weakness be exposed? And how will the whole Leinster final experience prepare them for August weekend?

Will Westmeath be heroic and bold in defeat? Will they be conservative and pragmatic? And what are their prospects of recovering in time to face Longford, Kildare, Fermanagh or Roscommon at the end of the month?

Stark and unavoidable, these are the only questions worth addressing. Romantic Dublin is dead and gone now, and has been for some time.

The only romance on show in Croke Park tomorrow will be at noon when both Kildare and Longford take the field for what is a novel match-up.

After that, when the panzers roll in at 2pm, the novelty and sense of possibility might last about five minutes, as it did for the romantics in Kildare a few weeks back, before Dublin flatten all before them.

Kildare briefly held the lead over Dublin after Emmet Bolton’s opening point in the semi-final. Then on five minutes and seventeen seconds exactly, Ciarán Kilkenny equalised before adding another score to put Dublin ahead all of 47 seconds later. After that they were out of sight.

If Westmeath wish to avoid a similar fate tomorrow, everything they need to know can be learned from the approach play that led to Ciarán Kilkenny’s opening point: A brilliant piece of defensive pickpocketing by Jonny Cooper denied Pádraig Fogarty a goal at the Canal End.

Bryan Fenton’s athleticism saw him take the pass from Cooper, give to Michael Darragh Macauley, take the return, then kick-pass to Kevin McManamon. There followed a swift interchange of fist-passes between Dean Rock, Macauley again and Paul Flynn, before Kilkenny entered the move at a brilliant angle to kick his score into the Hill from about 40 yards out.

It’s all there: The crisp clean tackle by Cooper. The stride and gallop by Fenton. The aggressive runs by Macauley and McManamon. The accomplished decision making of Flynn and the angled run and finish by Kilkenny.

Now take a look again at what Kildare are at all this time.

Fogarty has Eamonn Callaghan coming through unmarked and at pace, hands outstretched and presumably yelling for the pass that will set him up for a certain goal. Callaghan puts in a half-hearted tackle trying to stop Cooper coming out after his steal.

Fogarty himself saunters after both Cooper and Fenton but never lays a hand on either allowing them a free run as far as midfield. Three or four Kildare half forwards and midfielders drift back at pedestrian pace.

Eoin Doyle puts a bit of heat on McManamon. Emmet Bolton actually makes three half- tackles in the space of a few seconds before failing to block Kilkenny’s kick going over.

At the moment when Kilkenny kicks, there are 11 Kildare players and only three Dublin players between him and the goal. What are all those white shirts actually doing there and, more pertinently, what are the lads in maroon shirts going to do when they find themselves in a similar position tomorrow?

I am not going to be another one of those who openly and patronisingly profess that I ‘fear for Westmeath’ tomorrow because frankly, if they continue to be as naive as they have been to date, they deserve everything they’re going to get.

Neither am I privy to what Tom Cribbin has planned in terms of defensive strategies to cope with Dubs but he has, in his team selection, gone some way to rectifying some of the problems that came to the fore against Meath a fortnight ago.

John Connellan’s selection at the expense of Lorcan Smyth was expected, not because of Connellan’s impact as a first-half sub against Meath but because of Smyth’s unwillingness or inability to track the runners coming out of the backs.

Smyth was a luxury Westmeath couldn’t afford against Meath. The contagion a non-tackling forward would create against the likes of Jack McCaffrey and Philly McMahon doesn’t bear thinking about.

Denis Corroon gives more legs at midfield and will probably dovetail better with clubmate Daragh Daly who, along with young Killian Daly, was bound to be very disappointed with his showing against Meath.

Paul Sharry offers more composure and passing ability on the forty and while Kieran Martin will hardly replicate his showing against Meath, he will probably be like flypaper for blue jersies every time he gets on the ball, thus giving others the opportunity to prosper. The returning Kieran Gavin, too, must surely have some role off the bench.

For a team who appeared very nervous in the opening half against Meath, and later admitted that was the case, the younger Westmeath players such as Killian Daly and Shane Dempsey have probably overachieved by reaching a Leinster final this year.

It is a great height to be reaching this early in their careers and while young players will never be afraid of heights, the crash when they inevitably fall could be difficult to recover from before the end of the month.

Dublin hold so many aces on and off the field that it is difficult to see a single Westmeath player winning his individual battle. Even John Heslin, who impressed me so much when I first saw him the flesh against Anthony Maher this time three years ago in Mullingar, is going to find Rory O’ Carroll a much less accommodating defender than anybody he’s faced up to now.

The real intrigue for the neutrals is in how Dublin go about resolving their first world problems. Problems like getting Michael Darragh Macauley back to 2013 performance levels, keeping Diarmuid Connolly at post 2013 levels, getting McCaffrey and Kilkenny to keep on fulfilling the promise of that magical debut season, and getting the likes of John Small, Cormac Costelloe and Bryan Fenton to maintain the performance levels that could ensure they become the names that everybody will be talking about by the end of 2015.

In the meantime Bernard Brogan will keep on posting ridiculous scores and Paul Flynn will keep on covering ridiculous yards. Cian O’ Sullivan will keep on sweeping and swooping to make sure there is no repeat in 2015 of last year’s debacle against Donegal, and Stephen Cluxton will recover from his two missed kickouts ten minutes before half time against Kildare to improve his game even more.

And in the end, Dublin will win their tenth Leinster title in eleven 11 as Westmeath go into their eleventh year without one.

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