Sometimes it’s hard not to feel the lady doth protest too much. A year on from parking the bus at Croke Park in last year’s Leinster final — and doing a pretty good job of it for 40 minutes or so — Westmeath are talking about going for goals in tomorrow’s rematch. And lots of them.
“We reckon we’ve no chance of beating them unless we get three goals and we don’t concede a goal,” said Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin this week. “That’s the way we’ll be planning the game.”
Cribbin went on to talk at length about their greater desire to attack tomorrow having scored just six points in last year’s final and only four from play. “This year, they want to have a cut at it.”
Paul Bealin, the former Dublin All-Ireland medal winner who managed Westmeath in 2014, isn’t convinced. Far from an attacking spectacle of end-to-end action, and goals galore, he is predicting another long afternoon of backs versus forwards. Mainly Westmeath’s backs against Dublin forwards.
“They’ll park 14 behind the ball, absolutely, I have no doubt about that,” said Bealin of Westmeath. “It won’t be a great spectacle but I don’t blame them. If you take Dublin on toe-to-toe they’ll destroy you. So that space will be limited for Dublin and it won’t be pretty to watch. If you’re Tom Cribbin, you don’t care how you win. He’ll get guys behind the ball and the important thing then is getting scores down at the other end when the chances are there.
“Kieran Martin in a one-on-one situation is very dangerous and Dublin have shown they’re a little vulnerable under that diagonal high ball in, particularly against Laois. So Westmeath will try to exploit that. But primarily they’ll be playing a defensive game.”
But what about Cribbin’s talk of going for broke and, if they lose by 20 points, well so be it?
“I have no doubt if they go toe-to-toe with Dublin then Dublin will absolutely destroy them,” responded Bealin. “That’s not being negative, that’s just a fact. Given time and space on the ball, Dublin will cut through Westmeath.
“There’s very few teams in Ireland capable of playing that way against them. Westmeath certainly if they set up that way will be destroyed.
“I’m not saying they’ll beat Dublin playing defensively. The one big thing I’ve noticed about Dublin is they don’t get frustrated against blanket defences. They’re patient and they’re prepared to wait for the right man coming off the shoulder to break through and kick a score.
“People get frustrated with that and all the lateral passing back and forth across the pitch but there’s not much more they can do. So they’re comfortable doing that but I still feel it is the way Westmeath will set up.”
Bealin will attend the game with his sons. He said a competitive and enjoyable Leinster final would be progress of sorts, regardless of the anticipated Dublin win.
“What I’d hate to see is Dublin 14 points up and Westmeath still parking the bus. Leinster finals used to be great occasions, seriously competitive games that set you up for a shot at the All- Ireland and that’s really what you’d love to see first and foremost, a great final.
“My youngest is eight or nine and he’ll go for the occasion alone. The 16 or 17-year old isn’t too interested if it’s a great spectacle as long as Dublin win. But people a bit older would love to see some proper competition back in the province.
“The standard overall has dropped and looking at Leinster over the last five years, it’s in a dire state.”
Bealin had a difficult spell in charge of Westmeath two years ago. They failed to pick up a win and while their league form has continued to spiral, they’ve emerged as the second best team in Leinster in Championship terms.
It’s a curious dichotomy and effectively means the second best team in Leinster will be a Division 4 side in 2017. “I’m shocked to see them in Division 4,” said Bealin. “They’re not a Division 4 team. They’re probably not a Division 1 team either. We knew it would be hard to stay there but I think Division 2 is their level. I would take my hat off to them because they’ve got heavy stick in the press but they’ve come back each summer with some big wins.”
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