Dublin 0-14 Westmeath 1-7
They couldn’t quite pull off the shock result that would have become the stuff of legend but Westmeath gave Dublin a decent scare in Mullingar all the same.
Wasteful in front of goals and racking up missed opportunities like they were going out of fashion, the holders were pegged back to level terms with 20 minutes left.
They were brought to book for their errant play by veteran Westmeath forward Des Dolan in particular who shot a wonderful goal shortly after his introduction.
And when John Heslin nudged the hosts ahead with a 54th minute point, Lake County fans in the 6,500 crowd wondered if they were about to witness a very rare event — Dublin being beaten.
Unfortunately for them, they weren’t capable of taking full advantage and their lead lasted for all of 60 seconds as Dublin quickly moved up a gear.
Paul Hudson, just on himself as a substitute, kicked back-to-back points to put Dublin ahead. His presence also had the effect of generally inspiring those around him.
By full-time, Dublin had kicked seven points in the closing quarter of an hour and four of them came courtesy of Thomas Davis club man Hudson.
It was yet another victory for Dublin’s strength in depth as Davy Byrne and Daniel Watson, two more subs, combined for another of their late scores.
In truth, the league and All-Ireland champions will probably forget this game pretty quickly as they prepare now for the visit of Cork to Croke Park on March 1 in Round 3.
But it’ll be tough for Westmeath to simply move on as they had Dublin on the ropes at Cusack Park and couldn’t apply the knockout punch that might have inspired them to avoid an anticipated relegation battle in Division 1.
Dublin have only been beaten once by Westmeath in the league since 1969, in the Division 2 final in 2008, so a home win would have been a real turn up.
Aside from the five-minute period after Dolan’s goal, it’s hard to imagine the Dublin players feared a slip up this time either.
That’s a testimony to the strength of Dublin because even with a new look defence, a rare start for Ciaran Reddin up front and Michael Darragh Macauley and Paul Flynn being eased back into action, they bossed the game.
Dublin led 0-6 to 0-3 at half-time but it should have been more, despite playing into a stiff wind.
Reddin kicked two nice points to open up daylight between them and after Westmeath’s third point in the 12th minute, Paul Bealin’s side didn’t score again until the second half.
If it sounds like business as usual for Dublin it was anything but, as they racked up the wides. They kicked eight in total in the half, 14 in all, and winced as Paul Mannion and Ciaran Kilkenny dragged several bad frees wide.
Even goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton pulled one wide of the upright from a free he might normally convert while Kevin McManamon couldn’t turn several opportunities that came his way into scores.
Centre-forward Kilkenny did have a good game overall, and when the chips were down in the second half, he did his best to energise his colleagues.
At that stage, their heads could have been lowered after seeing Flynn and Macauley both foiled by Westmeath’s excellent keeper Darren Quinn.
On both occasions, Quinn pulled off miraculous stops to move into an elite club of keepers who have walked away from a Dublin game with their goal intact.
But just as victory threatened to escape Dublin after that Dolan goal, once again they displayed their impressive ability to grind out the result when things were difficult. It was similar to eight days earlier, when they finished strongly to deny Kerry at Croke Park.
Heslin and Ger Egan had combined to tee up Dolan for his well-finished goal and Westmeath led briefly shortly after.
But Dublin’s response was emphatic with Hudson proving the game changer in the last 15 minutes or so as he booted some impressive points to keep their perfect record intact.
They have three weeks’ break now and though Bernard Brogan won’t be back for the Cork match, it’s anticipated that they will be boosted by the return of James McCarthy and Alan Brogan.
Scorers for Westmeath: J Heslin (0-5, three frees), Des Dolan (1-0), K Martin and R Connellan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Dublin: P Hudson (0-4), C Kilkenny (three frees) and S Cluxton (three 45s) 0-3 each, C Reddin (0-2), K McManamon and D Byrne (0-1 each).
Subs for Dublin: P Hudson for McManamon (51), K O’Brien for Nelson (51), D Byrne for O’Gara (58), J McCaffrey for Macauley (60), D Watson for Mannion (63), K Nolan for Cooper (67).
Subs for Westmeath: R Connellan for Corroon (25), D Dolan for Martin (48), C McCormack for Gonoud (63), Damian Dolan for Gilmore (68), D McCormack for Glennon (72).
Referee: D Gough (Meath).
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; P McMahon, M Fitzsimons, D Nelson; E Lowndes, C O’Sullivan, J Cooper; MD Macauley, S Carthy; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, C Reddin; P Mannion, E O’Gara, K McManamon. WESTMEATH: D Quinn; K Maguire, K Gavin, S Gilmore; J Gonoud, J Gilligan, J Dolan; D Duffy, D Corroon; P Sharry, J Egan, G Egan; K Martin, D Glennon, J Heslin.
Paul Hudson’s four-point haul in the last 15 minutes hauled Dublin to victory.
Did that just happen?
Westmeath goalkeeper Darren Quinn made an incredible save from Paul Flynn in the 42nd minute. After an initial block, the ball squirmed past Quinn towards the line but he somehow contorted his body in time to gather it at the second attempt.
Best on show
Ciarán Kilkenny was handed the man of the match award. Dublin’s young centre-forward has bulked up noticeably and powered his way around the forward line, stringing the play together cleverly at times.
Black card watch
There were no black cards dished out.
Westmeath captain Paul Sharry was given a licence to play where he was most needed. Often that meant the half-back line, other times in attack. He did it well. Des Dolan’s introduction was well-timed too. But Dublin’s bench simply proved too powerful, as it has done on so many occasions under Jim Gavin.
The man in black
David Gough had a controversy free game and applied the advantage rule well.
Dublin host Cork at Croke Park on Saturday, March 1. Westmeath are away to Derry the following day.
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