NO question about it, Dublin’s hold on their Leinster football title looks decidedly shaky after this unconvincing victory in Croke Park yesterday.
Ultimately, they survived a gruelling challenge from Westmeath because of the combination of very good defending over the last ten minutes and some vital misses by Tomas Ó Flatharta’s excellently prepared team. But overall they advanced to their fourth consecutive final, because of their gritty determination in recovering from a shock goal after less than seven minutes.
Considering how well they played throughout, against a Dublin side which had serious problems at full-back, lost Bernard Brogan through injury after 17 minutes and had Shane Ryan off the field twice for treatment for a nose injury, Westmeath deserved a draw. But crucially, when the game hung in the balance, from the three-quarters stage up to five minutes from the end, they didn’t make the most of the few scoring chances they had. In this context, a missed free from team captain Dessie Dolan proved particularly costly.
While gaining the opening score — from a Conal Keaney free — Dublin were quickly on the back foot after Denis Glennon equalised in the 5th minute and wing-back Michael Ennis put the ball in the net shortly afterwards. At this stage Shane Ryan was off the field for treatment and his direct opponent Donal O’Donoghue (then marked by blood sub Ciaran Whelan) made the opening with a high ball into the goalmouth which keeper Stephen Cluxton misjudged.
Glennon, who was causing huge problems for Ross McConnell, followed with another point and Westmeath quickly settled into their rhythm. While Dublin initially showed a capacity to make progress up front when their half-backs came through to support, that option was to be limited because of the pressure their defence was under. And, it wasn’t just inside, where Glennon and Dermot Bannon were isolated. Dessie Dolan adopted a roving role out around the half-forward and used his craft and ability to exert a powerful influence. Notably, after Bannon was withdrawn, the more experienced Alan Mangan was to be much more successful in supporting the strong efforts of Glennon, whose threat was lessened after David Henry was moved in on him. However, McConnell had no better luck trying to mark Dolan outside.
Dublin’s front players had to contend with Westmeath’s blanket defence, which at stages saw ten players behind the 50 yards line. It saw former Allstar John Keane play a dominant role in the left corner against Alan Brogan, while named left half-forward Doran Harte was a sweeper in front of the full-back line.
However, to their credit Dublin were level by the 19th minute, helped by scores from Henry and substitute Diarmuid Connolly, and the last ten minutes of the half were much more evenly contested. At the break, the teams were still level, 1-5 to 0-8.
Immediately after the resumption Dublin went in front for the first time through Whelan. He had come back on for Ryan just before the break and was to stay on the field for 13 minutes before again going off – and returning for the third time as an official sub (for an out-of-touch Eamonn Fennell) in the 55th minute.
Whelan did a lot of very useful work while Paul Casey, who’d replaced McConnell for the second half, did much better in defence.
Dublin also promised more going forward, with all three half-backs, Brian Cullen especially, much more involved, and their composure around the Westmeath goalmouth was to sustain their challenge during the most demanding period.
After Dessie Dolan equalised from a free in the 44th minute and put Westmeath ahead from play shortly afterwards, scores were level for the fourth and last time seven minutes later. After Colin Moran regained the lead for Dublin, Dolan failed from what appeared a simple free and substitute Flanagan (unable to start because of injury and a serious loss) missed from play.
A more confident Dublin surged in front with two late scores and effectively wrapped up the match.
Scorers for Dublin: T. Quinn 0-3 frees; D. Connolly 0-2; C. Keaney 0-2 frees; A. Brogan, D. Henry, C. Whelan, C. Moran, J. Sherlock and G. Brennan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Westmeath: D. Dolan 0-5 (0-3 frees); M. Ennis 1-0; D. Glennon 0-3.
DUBLIN: S. Cluxton; S. O’Shaughnessy, R. McConnell, D. Henry; B. Cahill, B. Cullen, C. Moran; E. Fennell, S. Ryan; P. Flynn, J. Sherlock, B. Brogan; A. Brogan (c), C. Keaney, T. Quinn.
Subs: D. Connolly for B. Brogan (injured, 17th minute); P. Casey for McConnell and M. Vaughan for Flynn (h/t); C. Whelan for Ryan (55th); B. McMahon for Quinn (65th).
WESTMEATH: G. Connaughton; F. Boyle, K. Galvin, J. Keane; M. Ennis, D. Heavin, D. Healy; D. O’Donoghue, D. Duffy; F. Wilson, J. Smith, D. Harte; D. Dolan (capt.), Denis Glennon, D. Bannon. Subs: A. Mangan for Bannon (23rd minute); M. Flanagan for Smith (57th); David Glennon for Wilson (67th).
Referee: P. Hughes (Armagh).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved