Dublin 2-13 Westmeath 0-6: Gone in 60 seconds? It’s a tempting cliché to toss out in light of the two goals Dublin scored early in the second-half to turn this Leinster final encounter decisively in their favour.
Mind you, were they ever genuinely in danger of failing to carry away the Delaney Cup for the fifth consecutive year as provincial winners? Probably not.
In fact, it just about summed up Dublin’s domination of Leinster in recent times that the Westmeath players marched off the pitch at half-time - when they trailed by double scores - to rich and optimistic applause from their supporters.
That, unfortunately for everyone outside of Dublin, is where the Leinster championship is at these days.
Not being beaten out the gate by half-time is to be applauded.
Dublin’s eighth double-digit win over Leinster opposition in their last nine outings wasn’t ultimately a futile exercise though, far from it.
The end result of a 13-point win may have been, on paper, painfully similar to the 19- and 27-point hammerings they previously dished out to Kildare and Longford.
But the challenge they faced was an altogether new one, in Leinster at least, as Westmeath came to Croke Park with defensive intent and set about suffocating the game.
Donegal, Derry and Tyrone have all enjoyed relative success with similar game-plans in the last year and, with this in mind, Jim Gavin will be privately delighted to have met such a challenge head on and prevailed.
There is no surer thing than Dublin will meet this sort of men-behind-the-ball approach again in this year’s championship, possibly several more times depending on their opposition.
Westmeath deserve huge credit because they had just a fortnight to alter their very DNA and transplant their attacking instincts with defensive ones.
In essence, they were taking what worked brilliantly for them against Louth, Wexford and, famously Meath when they roared back from nine points down in the second-half, and replacing it with a desire to stifle and suffocate.
For 35 minutes, they gave a pretty good impression of a side playing that way for longer than two weeks. Shane Dempsey was detailed as the lone presence in the full-forward line and Kieran Martin and John Heslin dropped out to shore up the middle third of the field.
To make it clear, Dublin never looked like being beaten, even in this early period of uncertainty, certainly not like they were against Derry or Tyrone in the Allianz league.
But it was at least encouraging to see a side make them work for their scores.
A few snapshots from the first-half were telling; Bernard Brogan on his backside complaining in vain to the referee of ill treatment from Kevin Maguire after spilling possession, Ciaran Kilkenny coughing up the ball while surrounded by a maroon blockade and Paul Flynn booting two dreadful wides with no other apparent options.
The unfortunate reality for Westmeath is that they simply found scores harder to get and were undermined by errors for the two goals that sucked the life out of their challenge. Cribbin also bemoaned that while they defended stoutly, as per the plan, they didn’t attack with equal ferocity and gave Dempsey little to work off.
Their 33rd minute point from Martin illustrated Westmeath’s difficulties.
Michael Darragh Macauley - who hinted that he may be back near his best with his first-half performance - was forced into a turnover that led to a Westmeath counter-attack.
Martin eventually gained possession but was forced to wipe beads of sweat from his brow after shrugging off Cian O’Sullivan for his point. Shortly after, Ciaran Kilkenny kicked Dublin into a 0-8 to 0-4 half-time lead with consummate ease.
Dublin, even on a bad day, have forwards who can lift the game in a moment of inspiration. So with Paul Flynn worryingly quiet again and Diarmuid Connolly contributing in patches, it fell to Bernard Brogan to turn this game with a goal four minutes into the second-half.
Cribbin was furious that for all of Westmeath’s defensive numbers, and the work they put in specifically on counteracting probing runs through the right and left channels, Flynn still got free to play in Brogan for a fisted finish. From the kick-out, McCaffrey seized possession and raced clear in trademark fashion down the left before blasting the ball into the roof of the net. Suddenly, Westmeath trailed by 11 instead of four.
The game was up, though Westmeath still refused to throw caution to the wind and go toe-to-toe with Dublin.
Perhaps that was sensible considering they still have a Round 4 qualifier to come and were better off losing by 13 than 23.
Dublin’s next game will be a last-eight tie. Notwithstanding the quality of their opposition so far, they appear in good shape.
Gavin will home in on their errant shooting here - 16 wides in total, nine in the second-half - and demand an improvement. But they have already ticked two vital boxes by winning the Leinster title and proving to themselves they can pick apart a defensive game plan.
Scorers for Dublin:
B Brogan (1-1); J McCaffrey (1-0); D Connolly and C Kilkenny (0-3 each); D Rock (0-2, 2 frees); P McMahon, J McCarthy, MD Macauley and A Brogan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Westmeath:
J Heslin (0-3, 2 frees); K Martin (0-2); F Boyle (0-1).
S Cluxton; J Cooper, R O'Carroll, P McMahon; J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, Diarmuid Connolly; Dean Rock, Kevin McManamon, B Brogan.
M Fitzsimons for Cooper (h/t), P Andrews for McManamon (47), D Bastick for Macauley (51), A Brogan for Rock (55), J Small for McMahon (61), T Brady for Connolly (65).
D Quinn; K Maguire, F Boyle, K Daly; D Lynch, P Sharry, J Dolan; P Holloway, D Corroon; G Egan, R Connellan, J Gilligan; K Martin, J Heslin, S Dempsey.
K Gavin for Dempsey and P Greville for Lynch (both h/t), C McCormack for Connellan (52), D Glennon for Holloway (53), John Egan for Heslin (61), J Gonoud for McCormack (64).
Joe McQuillan (Cavan).
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