Ciaran Whelan: Westmeath could have their a*** handed to them at half-time
Dubs to end midlanders' fairytale run
The highlight of the Leinster Championship to date was the monumental comeback by Westmeath against Meath in their Leinster semi-final.
To be fair, there were very few, arguably no one, that saw it coming at half-time. Some of their supporter were heading for the exit gates at the interval - little did they know that history was on the horizon.
In years to come the day Westmeath finally beat Meath will be recalled fondly by their players and supporters who were involved on the day. Unfortunately for the current group of Meath footballers, they will never be let forget it and they will be forever associated with that defeat
Whenever I discuss football with anyone from the Lake County, they will always bring up 2004. The day they toppled the Dubs. That is the nature of the beast for the underdog. Regardless of the bad days their hopes will always be founded on the good ones.
Three championship victories and a place in the last 12 represents great progress for Tom Cribbin and Westmeath.
Westmeath threw caution to the wind against Meath. They realigned their set up and chased down the Meath lead.
The Royals imploded and momentum shifted to Westmeath in the third quarter of the game leading to their historic victory. The manner of the win has been well documented and they deserved great credit.
Unfortunately though I do not think Sunday will be a good day for Westmeath and I genuinely fear for them coming up against an in-form Dublin team. There is no point in looking for fairytale outcomes here. There is no point in talking about the "what if's" either and looking for unrealistic glimpses of hope.
TORN TO SHREDS
If you strip away the euphoria of the victory against Meath, Westmeath are an average team that have made some progress.
Their first half performance the last day emphasised this point. Their defence was torn to shreds and an average Meath forward line ran amuck. Meath could have easily cantered into a 15-point lead if they were ruthless in front of goal during that opening period.
My fear for Weatmeath is that Dublin will be ruthless and whilst they will bring great support and colour to the occasion, there is no fun in having your arse handed to you on a plate by half-time.
In this regard once again and not unlike Longford and Kildare, Cribbin will need to set his team up defensively in order to give his defenders some protection. No other tactic will keep them in the game.
As regards Dublin, they continue to evolve and there was clear evidence against Kildare that they are slowly adjusting to a system of play for the bigger challenges ahead. Their defensive structure has been realigned and a rotation system is in place to try ensure they do not concede goals.
Kildare did not create any goal chances with Cian O'Sullivan and John Small primarily holding the defensive shape to protect the full-back line and the central channel. This allows Jack McCaffrey to put down the accelerator and attack at pace when the opportunity arises. Philly McMahon has also been deceptively effective when drifting forward unmarked to link the play, create over laps and add to the ticking scoreboard.
Up front the influence of Jason Sherlock as forwards coach is beginning to become evident.
The full-forward line are playing very deep and with a lot of width which pulls two defenders out of the scoring zone and creates space for the likes of Diarmuid Connolly, Ciarán Kilkenny, Paul Flynn or McCaffrey coming from deep. Sherlock has the forward line working collectively together in an unselfish manner and the unnoticed lines runs by some key players can create the space for the execution of simple scores.
Dublin are the team in control going into this game and once they bring the required level of intensity the result will look after itself.
Control is important for Dublin as they also have to consider the challenges ahead.
In that regard discipline is key and they must not let themselves get sucked into anything stupid. Pot calling kettle black I hear you say! However, it is so important that they control their emotions.
Their only wobble in terms of dominance against Kildare was at the start of the second half when Kildare decided they would physically target Dublin off the ball.
As the championship progresses it is natural that teams will target certain players by getting in their faces. This will all be done to get a reaction or slow the game down or break up Dublin's momentum.
It would be hypocritical if I was to say that I would not expect that to happen. Show me the inter-county or club player who was never experienced that kind of tactic is some shape or form. It happens, end of.
However, referees should also be aware and expect that this will happen. David Coldrick handed out five double yellow cards (ie one to each team) in that second half period against Kildare.
I would like to think that Coldrick reflecting honestly on those five yellow cards afterwards asked himself were Dublin the aggressors or did they instigate any of the minor scuffles that incurred?
I think he will find that it was Dublin's intention to play football and that that intent was punished by five yellow cards. Fair, reasonable? I think not.
Referees need to deal with the instigators and apply some common sense to each incident. Too often the easy cop out is to dish out a double yellow card for both players.
Joe Mc Quillan is the man with the whistle on Sunday but I expect he will have a reasonably comfortable afternoon.
Westmeath have already got the icing on their cake for 2015 by beating Meath. They will come to Croke Park to put up a spirited fight with plenty of hard work and endeavour. Unfortunately for them it will not be enough. Dublin are just in another league.
Up front the influence of Jason Sherlock is beginning