Dublin’s propellers await them again but the team Jim Gavin’s men will next face are anything but banal. Okay, their semi-final won’t live long in the memory. In fact, it was one of the worst games of the championship thus far but it saw the victors create history once more.
In last season’s corresponding fixture, they dismissed Meath in the most spectacular of circumstances beat them for the first time in championship. Yesterday’s win was a variation of that famous win, again displaying their best after the half-time to qualify for a provincial final and beating Kildare for the first time in SFC since 1960 in the process.
An unanswered run of 1-6 between the 46th and 65th minutes, while keeping Kildare scoreless for a yawning 28 minutes, was enough to see them reach the last 12 of the All-Ireland SFC. Kildare could have snatched a draw, even a win, with late forays. Tommy Moolick was deemed to have impeded Darren Quinn prior to Cathal McNally finding the net, but Kildare could have few excuses for not building on what had been a handsome six-point advantage.
Where did Westmeath’s blitz come from? “We probably were a bit too defensive – we didn’t attack the game as we should have in the first half,” said Tom Cribbin.
“We didn’t do it until they went six points up. But then Jimmy Dolan, Kieran Martin and Paul Sharry started stepping up and running at them and going at them. And I think that was the difference.”
Trailing 0-7 to 0-6 at half-time, Westmeath found themselves further behind in the 40th minute when Quinn failed to deal with a Neil Flynn ball fisted into the small rectangle and Moolick was alert enough to palm it to the net. An Eoghan O’Flaherty point followed and Kildare were looking pretty.
Only it wasn’t until the last minute of normal time that they raised a flag when Flynn converted a free. He added another in injury time to spook Westmeath but when Eoin Doyle handled the ball on the ground at the death all Kildare’s hopes of another day out disappeared.
It wasn’t just that Kildare went 28 minutes without a score: they hardly had any scoring attempts in that period either.
The Lake County’s recovery commenced in the 43rd minute through Sharry and continued with a brace from Ray Connellan before Dolan finished off a move for a goal that involved John Heslin and substitute Callum McCormack.
Cribbin was full of praise for the goalscorer. “He’s incredible. They way he gets in for so many crucial goals. He’s so composed, he really took it to them in the second half. You really wouldn’t want anybody else on the end of that except Kieran (Martin) or Jimmy.”
Dolan’s goal levelled matters and further points came via Heslin (a free), Martin and then McCormack to complete a remarkable nine-point turnaround. All the while, Kildare were making subs to stop the bleeding.
“Every team has a purple patch,” said Cian O’Neill, “and your role as the opponent is to try and limit what they can do in that period. We just didn’t contain them. Once they got back level, the momentum was with them and they pushed on like any good team would do, coming from six points down.
“In fairness to the guys, they showed resilience and character towards the end to get within one and had chances to equalise but at that stage it was too little, too late and we just weren’t able to get one back to grab the draw.”
Kildare were actually three points in arrears after 20 minutes but clawed it back and managed to go in ahead at the break with the last three points of the game. Their attack was not being serviced sufficiently but Emmet Bolton was enjoying some success down the left flank in 35 minutes-plus of football that was in no way engaging.
Neither team were committing too many forward, resulting in some woeful play. “We were a bit scared to go four on four at one end and leave it eight on eight at the other,” conceded Cribbin.
“It’s impossible to mark space and they have quality forwards who can hurt you. So we had no choice but to leave one back. I thought we would do more damage up front.” O’Neill was left to rue the absence of Daniel Flynn, Keith Cribbin and Kevin Feely with just Cribbin likely to be available for their second round qualifier.
J Heslin (0-4, frees); P. Sharry (0-3, 1 45); J. Dolan (1-0); R. Connellan, K. Martin (0-2 each); C. McCormack (0-1).
N. Flynn (0-4, frees); T. Moolick (1-0); E. Bolton (0-2); F. Conway, N. Kelly, J. Byrne, A. Tyrrell, E. O’Flaherty (0-1 each).
D. Quinn; K. Maguire, J. Gonoud, A. Stone; F. Boyle; J. Dolan, K. Daly; G. Egan (c), D Corroon; R. Connellan, P. Sharry, D. Lynch; J. Connellan, J. Heslin, K. Martin.
J. Egan for K. Martin (blood, 8-16); C. McCormack for A. Stone (47); J. Egan for J. Connellan (58); R. Foley for R. Connellan (63); R. Gorman for K. Maguire (black, 70+4).
M. Donnellan; P. Kelly, D. Hyland, O. Lyons; J. Byrne, E. Doyle (c), E. Bolton; T. Moolick, F. Conway; M. O’Flaherty, E. O’Flaherty, C. O’Donoghue; A. Tyrrell, N. Flynn, N. Kelly.
C. McNally for A. Tyrrell (45); K. Murnaghan for E. Bolton (50); C. Healy for N. Kelly (black, 55); C. Fitzpatrick for C. O’Donoghue (57); E. Callaghan for E. O’Flaherty (60); R. Houlihan for J. Byrne (67).
D. O’Mahoney (Tipperary)