Disappointed. Embarrassed. Outclassed.
Tom Cribbin didn’t try to contextualise or mitigate after watching his Westmeath side crumble to a 31-point defeat in this car crash of a Leinster semi-final.
There was no poor mouthing, no blaming the fact this was their third game in as many weeks after the replay required to see off Offaly.
This was what it was: a deeply wounding day for a group of men who have dedicated so much time and effort to their county.
That and a record win for the Leinster and All-Ireland champions under Jim Gavin, though one that leaves us none the wiser as to their likely fortunes this summer.
Kildare, surely, will tell us more come the Leinster final.
The whispers were that Gavin’s side had slipped back a gear towards the chasing pack this season but who can say after they dismantled a Westmeath side that committed hari-kari with its refusal to park the bus as they had done this last two years when meeting the Dubs in consecutive Leinster finals.
Defeated by 13 points in 2015, that gap stretched by two 12 months later and Cribbin claimed it was the decision not to employ a second sweeper here that led to the doubling of the winning margin and not any great leap in class by their already impressive superiors.
“To be honest, my players wanted to have a go. We played with one sweeper all year and they wanted to see where we are in the class rankings playing a team of that calibre. We felt we could be a lot closer to them.
Dublin are a different class and there is no easy way about it.”
Cribbin had told his good friend and Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien the Dubs couldn’t be faced without two sweepers before the quarter-final in Portlaoise at the start of the month and admitted that, were Westmeath playing them again next week, he’d be locking up shop.
As a game, this was eerily reminiscent of Dublin’s destruction of Longford two years ago in the provincial quarter-final.
Managed by Jack Sheedy at the time, Longford came to Croke Park with their chests puffed out and promising to go 15-on-15 and then suffered a deflating 27-point loss. Cribbin knew a repeat was not unlikely.
“The only way we would handle them - and to be honest I probably knew it in my heart and soul before the game - was we needed to get a minimum of 11 guys back, play the zonal defence and two sweepers, but unless you have machines that can get up and down the pitch, you are not going to beat them.
“You might hold them back, might keep the score down, might keep huge scorelines going up against you by doing that, but I don’t think anyone in Westmeath would have liked to have seen that again for the third year in a row.
And the players didn’t want it. They wanted to have a go.”
They started off well enough. Kieran Martin brought the sides level for a second time with Westmeath’s fourth point after 10 minutes and, though the midlanders harried and hustled, the signs were already ominous with a Niall Scully shot on goal being blocked by Killian Daly after just a minute.
A surfeit of space at the back wasn’t Westmeath’s only issue.
Darren Quinn’s long kick-outs were invariably won by, or broken in the direction of, a blue shirt and the result was a torrent of possession that opened up countless avenues of approach.
Paul Mannion finished the game with eight points, all of them from play. Con O’Callaghan had three before the half-hour and Dean Rock, Eoghan O’Gara, Ciarán Kilkenny and Kevin McManamon all claimed goals. Eleven players contributed to the turkey shoot in all.
As ever, considerable damage was done down the final straight with 2-5 added to the pyre in the last six minutes.
Westmeath were reduced to 14 bodies by then thanks to a black card for substitute Noel Mulligan and the fact Cribbin had no more replacements to use.
So, no questions answered in HQ yesterday but a familiar one was raised again after another blowout between a Division 1 side and an opponent stationed in the bottom tier for the spring: isn’t it beyond time that a tiered All-Ireland football championship was introduced?
“Definitely, I think championship should be re-structured,” said Cribbin. “People say that weaker counties don’t want to play another competition. If there was a second-tier competition the winners should be re-introduced to the senior competition that year.
“That would give 16 counties an unbelievable bonus to get on the big stage.”
Anything would be better than this. Surely.
Scorers for Dublin:
P Mannion (0-8); D Rock (1-5, 0-3 frees, 0-2 ‘45’s); C Kilkenny (1-3); K McManamon (1-1): C O’Callaghan (0-3); E O’Gara (1-0); B Fenton, P Andrews and S Carthy (all 0-2); B Brogan (0-2, 0-1 free); J McCaffrey (0-1).
Scorers for Westmeath:
J Heslin (0-4, 0-3 frees); K Martin (0-3); J Egan (0-2); G Egan (0-1).
S Cluxton; C O’Sullivan, M Fitzsimons, D Daly; E Lowndes, J Cooper, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, J McCarthy; C Kilkenny, C O’Callaghan, N Scully; D Rock, P Andrews, P Mannion.
E O’Gara for Andrews (HT); S Carthy for Cooper (44); D Byrne for Fitzsimons (44); K McManamon for Rock and B Brogan for Scully (both 48); B Howard for O’Callaghan (61);
D Quinn; J Gonoud, K Maguire, F Boyle; D Lynch, K Daly, J Dolan; G Egan, A Gaughan; J Egan, P Sharry. C McCormack; M McCallon, K Martin, J Heslin.
N Mulligan for Gaughan (HT); K Reilly for McCormack (49); C Boyle for Daly (51); S Corcoran for Egan (53); D Glennon for Sharry (57); A Stone for Lynch (65);
C Lane (Cork).
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