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Friday 28 July 2017

Westmeath go back on attack to set up daunting Dub D-Day

Westmeath 3-17 Offaly 0-15

John Heslin’s ball-winning and scoring prowess close to goal were vital for Westmeath. SPORTSFILE
John Heslin’s ball-winning and scoring prowess close to goal were vital for Westmeath. SPORTSFILE

So, at the second time of asking, the outcome that most people had expected.

Belief restored but bodies battered, Westmeath advance to a Leinster SFC semi-final date with their Sky Blue nemesis next Sunday.

Later that evening, Offaly must try and pick themselves off the floor at home to Cavan.

A tough ask for both midland counties ... but Tom Cribbin was quick to refuse "fatigue" as an alibi for whatever transpires in Croke Park. "We had six days for the turnaround today," the Westmeath boss reminded after Saturday's replay triumph by an admittedly misleading 11 points.

"You can see the condition that they finished the game in, their physical conditioning is absolutely brilliant. If we start using things like that, it would be an excuse. We just have to mind them this week and get the injuries sorted."

Therein lies a headache.

As Paddy Holloway was helped from the TEG Cusack Park pitch after suffering an early knee injury, the defender did not resemble someone who'd be fit for HQ duty.

Callum McCormack departed before half-time and his replacement Denis Glennon - having smashed a goal chance off the bar and earned a pointed free - limped off soon after. Alan Gaughan's late exit looked more precautionary, but these knocks must be a worry.

"If I didn't lose three of my key players, I'd say 100 per cent better," said Cribbin, when asked if his 2017 model is an upgrade on the team that lost back-to-back Leinster finals to the Dubs.

How much better is a moot point, albeit this was infinitely better than the wind-blighted negativity of Tullamore.

Westmeath's more attacking mindset was rewarded with 3-13 from play, even if Offaly had them casting nervous backward glances for more than an hour. Backed by the breeze, the hosts led by 0-9 to 0-5 at the break; then Offaly twice upped the ante only to falter each time.

Offaly’s Niall McNamee is surrounded by Westmeath’s Kevin Maguire, left, and Alan Gaughan. SPORTSFILE
Offaly’s Niall McNamee is surrounded by Westmeath’s Kevin Maguire, left, and Alan Gaughan. SPORTSFILE

Trailing by two, they fluffed two presentable point chances. Then, having rattled off three quick points in response to John Egan's 54th-minute goal, trimming the deficit to a goal, they lost Cian Donohue to a second yellow.

For the second week running, Offaly paid the price for rash indiscipline as Westmeath accelerated for home with two goals in a minute from the toweringly influential John Heslin and his sidekick, Kieran Martin.

In summary, they won because they utilised their primary strength (Heslin's ball-winning and scoring prowess close to goal). And because their experienced core group delivered in the guise of Kevin Maguire (who snuffed out Niall McNamee), Ger Egan (another big second half) and Paul Sharry (albeit his positive forward contributions were negated by Peter Cunningham's superb four points from distance).

They were also helped by their bench, most tellingly the belatedly prolific Frank Boyle and goalscorer Egan.

Here's another reason they won, according to Pat Flanagan ... experience. "I think that's all that's between us," the losing boss argued.

Drag

"Offaly have won one Leinster championship match in ten years; Westmeath have been to two Leinster finals in two years. It's very, very difficult when you're trying to drag a team up ... I just honestly believe that this Offaly team are only at a stage now where they can start actually training for the likes of the Leinster championship.

"They look like athletes now and they think like footballers. When we took them over, they were in a very, very weak and low position. Obviously the scoreline today would suggest that it hasn't improved a lot, but I would disagree totally with that."

Scorers - Westmeath: J Heslin 1-6 (2f), K Martin 1-2, P Sharry 0-3 (2 '45s'), J Egan 1-0, F Boyle 0-2, C McCormack, G Egan, N Mulligan, T McDaniel 0-1 each. Offaly: N Dunne 0-5 (3f), P Cunningham 0-4, S Doyle 0-2, G Guilfoyle, N Darby (f), M Brazil, C McNamee 0-1 each.

Westmeath: D Quinn 7 ; K Maguire 7, P Holloway not on long enough, M McCallon 6; K Daly 6, J Gonoud 7, J Dolan 6; A Stone 5, G Egan 7; K Reilly 5, P Sharry 7, A Gaughan 7; C McCormack 6, J Heslin 9, K Martin 8. Subs: F Boyle 8 for Holloway (inj 6), D Glennon 6 for McCormack (inj 35+3), J Egan 7 for Reilly (ht), T McDaniel 7 for Glennon (inj 48), D Lynch 6 for Stone (50), N Mulligan for Gaughan (inj 69).

Offaly: A Mulhall 6; B Darby 6, E Rigney 6, S Pender 6; N Darby 5, P Cunningham 9, C Donohue 6; C McNamee 7, D Hanlon 6; R Allen 6, G Guilfoyle 6, M Brazil 6; J Moloney 5, N Dunne 7, N McNamee 5. Subs: J Lalor 6 for N Darby (ht), B Allen 5 for N McNamee (41), A Sullivan 6 for Brazil (48), J O'Connor 6 for Rigney (inj 56), S Doyle 7 for Moloney (59), D Hogan for Hanlon (72).

Wides: Westmeath 8 (8+0); Offaly 13 (7+6).

Yellow: Westmeath 1 (McCormack 22); Offaly 6 (Guilfoyle 40, Donohue 48, 63, R Allen 58, Cunningham 64, O'Connor 71). Black: Westmeath 1 (Heslin 72); Offaly 0. Red: Westmeath 0; Offaly 1 (Donohue 2nd yellow 63).

Ref: R Hickey (Clare).

Attendance: 4,714

Man of the match: John Heslin (Westmeath)

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