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Belief booming among Faithful after defeating Westmeath in dour affair

MIDLAND derbies are meant to be close affairs. This one was: cue Offaly's 0-8 to 0-7 victory in Mullingar. They are meant to induce edge-of-the-seat emotions among rival fans. Instead, this one served as a cure for insomnia.

We exaggerate, of course - slightly. Not that Offaly will complain about low marks for artistic impression after yesterday's second-half fightback sank Westmeath and confirmed their status as Group C top dogs, thus progressing to a O'Byrne Cup semi-final date with Kildare next Sunday in Tullamore.

Whatever the outcome there, they can at least embark on their next big mission - to escape the backwaters of Allianz League Division Four - buoyed by the knowledge that they've already won more competitive games in 2013 (three and counting) than they achieved in all of 2012 (a measly two). Not a bad start for their rookie boss, Emmet McDonnell.

"We just asked the lads to have a little bit of belief in their ability," said McDonnell, reflecting on his half-time message with Offaly trailing by 0-6 to 0-2.

"They lost a lot of games last year and the year before, and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get that belief up and running. But I think it came alive there in the second half."

If Offaly had spluttered alarmingly in the first half, their new-found intent was obvious within 15 seconds of the restart when Niall McNamee bisected the posts from 40 metres. The Offaly talisman has enjoyed better days (he kicked five wides) but his colleagues now took up the gauntlet.

Four unanswered points saw them draw level after 47 minutes and, although Paul Bannon briefly restored Westmeath's lead with his second point, the game's momentum had swung.

Thus, after Ross Brady's deadball equaliser, substitute Paul McPadden emerged as the Faithful's match-winner, applying the 67th-minute coup de grace after a pitch-length move.


Next up Kildare, who torched Offaly in last year's Leinster championship and will be aiming to repeat the dose when they meet again on June 1.

"It's just another game," McDonnell insisted. "They'll have a different team on the first of June and I'm sure we will. It's a different type of football during the summer, but it's just another game where we can demonstrate that these players want to play for Offaly again.

"And that's something that's been questioned over the last few years, but I think anyone who was here today can see they certainly want to represent their county."

So far, so Offaly good but whither Westmeath? While both camps stand indicted for some shockingly errant foot passes (even by January standards) the losers were even more culpable for a slavish devotion to the handpass.

In mitigation, their victory prospects were perhaps fatally undermined by a mounting casualty list that saw Dessie Dolan (hamstring) and Denis Glennon (AC shoulder joint) forced off inside half-an-hour after aggravating existing injuries, while apparent concussion ended Doron Harte's day following a crunching 'hit' by McNamee, for which he was booked.

Losing boss Pat Flanagan was keen to accentuate the positives, even in defeat to his native county.

"We started off with a very weakened panel last year and, of the team that beat Offaly here in Division Three to get to Division Two, we'd only three of those players to play against Louth and Meath. We're in a far better position this year," Flanagan declared.

"We had a very heavy training session (on Saturday), because the whole focus is on the league and trying to get out of Division Two into Division One.

"That's where our preparations are heading. As I say, a lot of Westmeath people will be very disappointed that we lost today but I think there's a bigger picture ahead."



SCORERS - Offaly: R Brady (2f), N McNamee (1f) 0-2 each; D Hanlon, A McNamee, G Guilfoyle, P McPadden 0-1 each. Westmeath: P Sharry (1 '45'), P Bannon, Dessie Dolan (1f) 0-2 each; Denis Glennon 0-1 (f).

OFFALY: A Mulhall; P McConway, B Darby, E Rigney; D Hanlon, S Pender, D Kelly; A McNamee, R Dalton; G Guilfoyle, B Connor, E Carroll; R Brady, N McNamee, P Cunningham. Subs: A Sullivan for Cunningham (22), M Mitchell for Dalton (inj 35), S Sullivan for Carroll (42), P McPadden for Rigney (62), K McGuinness for Guilfoyle (71).

WESTMEATH: G Connaughton; M McCallon, K Gavin, K Maguire; M Curley, P Sharry, D Harte; D Corroon, P Bannon; K Reilly, Denis Glennon, D Mullen; R Foley, C Curley, Dessie Dolan. Subs: David Glennon for Dolan (inj 17), D McCormack for Denis Glennon (inj 28), L Smyth for C Curley (44), Damien Dolan for Harte (inj 50), D Daly for Reilly (60).

WIDES - Offaly: 11 (6+5). Westmeath: 10 (3+7).

YELLOW CARDS - Offaly: 3 (A McNamee 23, N McNamee 48, McPadden 70). Westmeath: 3 (Denis Glennon 23, Maguire 54, McCormack 59).

REF: P Maguire (Longford).

ATT: 1,000 (approx).

MAN THE MATCH: Ross Brady (Offaly).