Monday 24 October 2016

John Heslin heroic as West get Wee lift-off

Leinster SFC: : Cribbin gets response that he craved as 'big players' come good for Westmeath

John Heslin, Westmeath, is tackled by Adrian Reid, Louth.
John Heslin, Westmeath, is tackled by Adrian Reid, Louth.
Daragh Daly, Westmeath, is tackled by Tommy Durnin, Louth.

TOM CRIBBIN spoke from the heart, at the start of April, when he blasted the "big players" in his Westmeath dressing-room for not standing up on the pitch and delivering.

His comments came in the wake of a fourth demoralising defeat on the spin that saw Westmeath topple through the relegation trap-door into Division Three.

The team appeared in a tailspin and the post-mortems included questions about how these unnamed senior players would react to being questioned in such a public forum by their new boss.

Yesterday in Drogheda, they responded in the best collective way possible, overcoming an admittedly callow Louth with plenty to spare at the finish.

It wasn't the complete performance, or anything like it, but to score 3-14 on enemy soil on the back of a second consecutive relegation has to register as a major positive.

Louth responded with 0-16 - a decent tally rendered futile because of a porous defence that leaked as it had done all spring en route to Division Four.

This was reflected in the fatal concession of second half goals from Callum McCormack, Shane Dempsey and Ray Connellan ... but while these proved the crucial difference, there were several other positives for Cribbin to savour, including a towering return to form for John Heslin.

The target man talisman tallied 0-9, comprising three points from play and six flawless frees - three into a testing first half wind, and three more second half boomers, all from 45 metres.

He also had a vital creative hand in the last two goals.

If Heslin was one of the "big players" not doing the business in spring, this was some response. Afterwards, asked about his April critique, Cribbin reflected: "I had strong words because the boys know we didn't perform in the league.

"Them boys are definitely Division Two standard - they know that.

"There was no problems (afterwards)," he maintained. "We came back, we did well, the players got stuck at training."

Was there really no reaction? "Ah not really, no," the Kildare man replied.

"I speak from the heart the whole time with them ... I was disappointed for them. Sometimes you want to have an excuse - the lads 'were drinking or messing' or something. But they're not like that. They're as committed a bunch of players as I've ever worked with in my life."

They started timorously - Heslin included - but Dempsey's 13th minute point kickstarted a run of five unanswered points and they looked poised at the break, leading 0-7 to 0-6 with a healthy breeze to come.

Within two minutes of the restart, Louth were unhinged by the aerial route, McCormack's high catch over his marker's head crowned by a blistering finish. And the manner in which they were cut open for Dempsey's 41st minute goal and Connellan's 56th minute effort - both fisted in at point-blank range - underlined a weakness at the heart of Colin Kelly's defence.

They had just hit four points on the bounce, cutting the gap to three, before Connellan's decisive goal, and the visitors duly eased to a seven-point victory and a home quarter-final against Wexford on June 14.

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