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Saturday 1 October 2016

At least three goals required for Cribbin's maroon 'David' to slay Goliath

Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin. Picture: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE
Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin. Picture: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE

There's only way one possible way that Westmeath can slay the blue-clad Goliath - by slinging goals past Stephen Cluxton, at least three. And don't concede any either.

In theory it sounds marvellous; Tom Cribbin knows it will be dastardly difficult in practice.

But his squad have got to try something and - unlike last year's Leinster final when damage limitation was their primary motivation - Cribbin insists they are ready to have a cut off Dublin on Sunday.

"We've looked at every goal that Dublin have conceded for the last five-six years," the Westmeath manager reveals. "You study them inside out, and you've to try and see can we emulate that?

Planning

"Any team that's going to beat Dublin has to get goals. We reckon we've no chance of beating them unless we get three goals, and we don't concede a goal. That's the way we'll be planning the game."

For last year's fixture, the underdogs attempted a drastic strategic shift. Having amassed 3-19 during their comeback victory over Meath, they embraced an extreme version of 'blanket defence' for the next fortnight, all designed to curtail a Dublin attack that had run riot against Longford and Kildare.

The tactic met with mixed results: they limited Dublin to 2-13 but scored just 0-6.

But, says Cribbin, "they feel they've nothing to lose this year. Last year, I knew by talking to them, it was more they didn't want to be humiliated in Croke Park. Whereas now they don't care anything about that - they want to have a go.

"So it's easier to convince them to attack the game now ... they want to have a cut at it. They just have loved their experiences in Croke Park."

Warming to his theme, the Kildare man expands: "Last year, we probably didn't honestly believe that we could. This year, we believe we can. There is more belief because we are willing to throw caution to the wind now.

"Last year, they were terrified because we saw Longford and a few teams that went at them, and they got demoralised and they were beaten by 20-odd points and we didn't want that to happen.

"But now we have a bit of belief; we've beaten Louth, Wexford, Meath, Offaly and Kildare, probably the next five best teams (in Leinster), so now they feel they are entitled to have a go at Dublin ... if we are still 20 points away, we are still 20 points away."

How, though, do you explain Westmeath's split personality - a team that has suffered three relegations on the spin, two under a manager who has led them to consecutive Leinster finals?

Cribbin admits that, from the off, his message to the players was all about delivering in the championship.

"We still thought we'd stay up last year. And then this year … we probably thought, it was my fault, that we'd stay up easier than we did," he accepts. But whereas his players "didn't respond too well to the pressure" of having to beat Longford in their last league outing, he insists they are feeling no pressure ahead of this 'free shot' at the Dubs.

"The level at training has moved up a serious gear or two, even since the Kildare game. You can see they're starting to express themselves ... they just feel they've nothing to lose going into this Leinster final," he assures.

"Now that doesn't guarantee us anything, because if you go man-to-man, 15 against 15, on the Dublin players and you were picking a team and you were all neutrals picking it - not Tom Cribbin! - there wouldn't be too many of our lads probably on the team. So you have to be realistic too."

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