John Heslin held his nerve to kick an equalising point from a free in the fourth minute of injury time and send this local derby to a replay in Mullingar next Saturday.
Leinster SFC quarter-final
Offaly 0-10 Westmeath 0-10
The full-forward, who had a very quiet outing, used his left boot from around 25 metres out and judged his kick to perfection into the very strong wind, as the curl that initially looked like it might be too much, edged inside the far upright to secure the replay.
Offaly will rue their failure build on an excellent first half, at the end of which they had parity on 0-6 apiece, despite playing into the elements.
They appeared to lack the belief to kick on, failing to provide supporting runners travelling at speed to the inside forwards or players in possession, even though they managed to break the Westmeath cover on a number of occasions with that tactic.
Having said that, they did finish with 13 players after the exceptional Michael Brazil was dismissed in the 58th minute and Ruairi Allen also saw red in the 72nd minute.
Both those players will be available next weekend as their offences were of the double yellow nature.
“I think we showed that we’re every bit as good as Westmeath. We did kick more wides than they did and we probably got a bit scared when we saw the winning line and we didn’t get across it” was the honest assessment of Offaly manager Pat Flanagan.
“We have to take into consideration that we’ve won one Leinster championship match in 10 years so it’s not going to come that easy. It’s going to be a slow process to try and build this team and to get it where we want to get it.
“We didn’t get across the line, possibly because we haven’t been successful over the past number of years. But we will work with the boys over the coming week to ensure that if we get that opportunity again we’ll take it.
“We felt we let it slip last year and the players felt we let it slip, we just didn’t get across the line this year but that doesn’t make us a bad team.
“We’re still working extremely hard, you saw against Laois the last day (in the League) when we should probably have won by seven or eight points and it came down to the wire in the end, it’s just a mental thing that we need to get across in the coming games.”
His Westmeath counterpart Tom Cribbin was content to still be in contention.
“I suppose the way things went today we’re happy to be in the Championship” said Cribbin.
“It was difficult to play out there today, a very blustery breeze… a local derby game, a lot of passion and stuff at stake. The last few games, there’s only been a point in it, there’s nothing between the two teams so it was always a tough game.”
He felt that tension was a significant factor in the cautious approach of both teams.
“You could see a nervous energy in the dressing room before the game. Even though you think you’re dealing with that and everybody is up for it, in a derby game you just get that, full stop. There’s a lot at stake for all the people along the borders and it probably means more to them than any other game in the championship.”
Offaly scored four points in succession, two from Brazil, one from Nigel Dunne who also impressed and a fantastic score by Graham Guilfoyle after good work by Brazil, to lead by two approaching half time.
Though Heslin responded with two points to make it 0-6 apiece at the interval, Offaly were firm favourites now, with such a significant wind advantage.
But they could not bring themselves to go forward with pace, lacking conviction when Westmeath were there for the taking and generally leaving Johnny Moloney and Niall McNamee to their own devices.
They never trailed and led by one on four occasions but to their credit, showed tremendous resolve, in particular when losing Brazil, and also as they lost the pacey Anton Sullivan to a black card within a minute of his introduction.
Both sides will hope for better in five days’ time, although worse will be fine as long as they win.
Ssorers for Offaly:
N Dunne 0-3(1f); M Brazil, G Guilfoyle 0-2 each; N Darby, N McNamee, J Moloney 0-1 each
Scorers for WEestmeath:
G Egan, J Heslin (3fs) 0-4 each; N Mulligan, S Dempsey 0-1 each
A Mulhall, B Darby, E Rigney, S Pender, N Darby, P Cunningham, C Donoghue, E Carroll, D Hanlon, M Brazil, G Guilfoyle, R Allen, N Dunne, N McNamee, J Moloney. Subs: J Lalor for B Darby inj (2), J O’Connor for Brazil temp (22-24)
D Quinn, J Gonoud, K Maguire, K Daly, J Dolan, P Holloway, M McCallon, A Stone, G Egan, K Reilly, P Sharry, N Mulligan, K Martin, J Heslin, S Dempsey. Subs: D Lynch for Dempsey, J Connellan for Stone (48)
P O’Sullivan (Kerry)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved