John Heslin’s eight-point haul — bringing his season’s takings to 3-29 — and goals from Ger Egan and Shane Dempsey secured the Division 4 title for Westmeath on Saturday.
Their next task is to close some of the ground that exists between themselves and all-conquering Dublin having lost to the Sky Blues in each of the last two Leinster finals.
Cribbin is confident that Westmeath can enter the summer with confidence despite spending spring in the lowest tier after sliding down the divisions between 2014 and 2016.
“If we’ve got our strategy right, and I think we have, from the point of view of fitness and the conditioning work that we’ve done, then I think we’re still going to be able to perform in the Championship this year.
“It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win but if we play to our potential then I think we’re still a very good team that can compete with the top teams.
We didn’t approach the league with any disrespect to the teams in Division 4 either, we treated them with serious respect. So no, it definitely wouldn’t be any excuse going into the Championship that Division 4 was a problem for us.”
Westmeath were a Division 1 side as recently as 2014 and will hope they can emulate Clare, Louth and Tipperary by roaring back up through the divisions after a spell in Division 4.
Cribbin believes Saturday’s big win over Wexford, when they built on a 1-11 to 1-4 half-time lead, highlighted the depth of their panel with eight different scorers and a number of experienced substitutes introduced.
“We have an incredible squad now, any of the lads that came on, and even some of the guys that didn’t get the opportunity to tog out, if any of them had started on my 15 they would have acquitted themselves well,” said Cribbin.
“The level of intensity at training this year has been huge. Some of our in-house matches have been more competitive than our league games.”
Wexford started brightly and the sides were level on three occasions but Westmeath pulled clear with an unanswered 1-4 between the 15th and 20th minutes to take firm control of proceedings.
It was Wexford’s third defeat in a row having secured promotion after just five matches and fielded weakened teams for their last two group games, against Westmeath and Carlow, and lost heavily.
Wexford manager Seamus McEnaney acknowledged Westmeath ‘outclassed us all over the pitch’ though insisted his decision to experiment in the two previous games wasn’t to blame for a lack of momentum.
“Absolutely not,” said ‘Banty’. “With 15 minutes gone the scores were three points apiece so the two defeats before this had nothing to do with how we started. We curtailed Westmeath until that.
“We had played a sweeper at that time of the game but, seven down at half-time, we needed to go for it then and we did that but unfortunately when you’re playing a team like Westmeath, with their top class, we were punished heavily for any mistakes.”
J. Heslin (0-8, 5 frees); G. Egan (1-2, 1 pen); S. Dempsey (1-1); K. Martin (0-4); P. Sharry, T. McDaniels (0-3 each); J. Connellan (0-2); K. Reilly (0-1).
D. Shanley (1-2, 1 free, 1 ‘45); K. O’Grady (1-1); C. Lyng (0-4, 3 frees); P.J. Banville (0-2); M. Furlong, D. Waters (0-1 each).
D. Quinn; K. Maguire, M. McCallon, J. Gonoud; J. Dolan, K. Daly, N. Mulligan; A. Stone, G. Egan (c); K. Reilly, P. Sharry, D. Lynch; K. Martin, J. Heslin, T. McDaniels.
D. Glennon for Daly (49); S. Dempsey for McDaniels (52); D. Corroon for Stone (55); J. Egan for Mulligan (57); J. Connellan for Martin (62); C. McCormack for Lynch (66).
S. Roche; R. Devereux, J. Rossiter, M. Furlong; B. Malone, E. Nolan, K. O’Grady; D. Waters (c), C. Kehoe; J. Leacy, B. Brosnan, P. Curtis; C. Lyng, J. Tubritt, P.J. Banvile.
C. Carty for Curtis (29); A. Flynn for Leacy (h/t); M. O’Regan for Devereux (h/t); D. Shanley for Brosnan (43), J. Wadding for Tubritt (51); T. Rossiter for Nolan (55).
P. Faloon (Down).