Westmeath’s Kieran Martin believes they are in a better position to seriously challenge Dublin this year and has indicated they won’t rely on a blanket defence strategy.
The Lake County will meet Dublin in the Leinster championship for the third year running at Croke Park today.
Tom Cribbin’s men defended in huge numbers in the 2015 Leinster final and deployed two sweepers in last year’s decider.
On both occasions, they were competitive until half-time, trailing by four- and one-point margins, respectively, but eventually caved in and lost by large sums.
Westmeath have been more attacking this year and were the highest scorers in the Allianz League, albeit in Division 4.
They fired 3-17 past Offaly last weekend too and corner-forward Martin ruled out copying the template of Carlow, who pulled everyone behind the ball at times against Dublin, with relative success.
“That’s up to the management, but I can’t see us doing that,” said Martin. “We’re at our best when we’re running and attacking, so let’s just go for it. We’ve nothing to lose.
“The worst thing I think you can do is probably over- analyse it. We got our tactics wrong in the drawn game with Offaly. I suppose, the conditions didn’t help, either. We couldn’t get the ball up the pitch, we had to go out looking for it and we were left with no-one inside.
“We’re at our best when we’re playing football and when we’re able to play football freely. Croke Park is a big pitch, so hopefully we can use the space to our advantage and give it a right good go.”
Westmeath have injury doubts over Callum McCormack (ankle), and Denis Glennon (ankle), while Paddy Holloway has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a cruciate injury.
However, Martin reckons they’re still better placed to challenge Dublin than they were in 2015 or 2016.
“I think we’re more mature, wiser,” he said. “That few years probably helped us. A lot of us were only 23 or 24 going in to play Dublin for the first time. We’re probably that bit wiser now and, you never know, Dublin were beaten once this year, so hopefully, we can do it again.”
Westmeath have become Croke Park regulars under Cribbin, taking on Dublin there twice and, famously, beating Meath in 2015, when Martin scored 2-3. They beat Wexford there too in this year’s Division 4 league final.
Maryland man Martin takes heart from the fact only the very best beat Westmeath in last year’s championship.
“The two teams that beat us last year were Dublin and Mayo. We gave Mayo a right good battle and they ended up in an All-Ireland final replay so we know we can compete with them. It’s about competing for the full 70 minutes and that’s where our panel this year will come into it.
“We’re able to compete with teams for 40 or 50 minutes and that’s when Dublin are bringing on the All-Stars, for the last 15 minutes. That’s where they can hurt you.
“But look, we’re strong this year and hopefully we’ll be able to do the same as what they were doing to us.”
Martin fired 1-2 in last weekend’s quarter-final replay win over Offaly, dovetailing with John Heslin, who notched up 1-6. The duo will take some stopping.
“It’s great when you have the likes of Denis Glennon coming on, hitting the crossbar and causing trouble,” he said. “It’s probably our best attribute this year that our subs are good enough to start and are making a huge impact when they come on.”
However, manager Cribbin admits the loss of Castledaly clubman Holloway — who went off after five minutes against Offaly — is a blow.
“It just means your cover isn’t near as strong now for that position. Paddy brings a bit of height to it, as well, but every team has its problems and our panel is stronger this year than in previous years.”
Westmeath’s Dessie Dolan will be inducted into the Leinster GAA Hall of Fame at Croke Park this Sunday. The Garrycastle hero will be presented with an award by Leinster chairman Jim Bolger at half-time in the Westmeath versus Dublin Leinster SFC semi-final.
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