Sunday 25 February 2018

Cribbin facing same Dublin dilemma

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin in action. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin in action. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly is just one of the many Dublin threats Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin has to consider. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

It was quite obvious that Euro 2016 came to close last weekend when reviewing this week's sports coverage. Gaelic games were back in the shop window again largely because there is very little else to talk about at this time of year.

Rule changes and all sorts of proposals were discussed in great detail on the back of one provincial (Connacht) final played in horrific conditions.

Defensive tactics and the apparent ruination of our game were back on the agenda once again.

I have no doubt this discussion will continue ahead of this week's Leinster Final between Westmeath and Dublin.

I was chatting with my 10-year-old son during the week over the dinner table about what the margin of victory might be on Sunday for Dublin against Westmeath.

With that, I got a good kick the shins under the table from my wife, a proud Westmeath woman. Bloody sore it was, I can tell you!

"Don't be so disrespectful to Westmeath and as for you son, you are as much a Westmeath boy as you are a Dub," she snapped.

"Remember 2004 do you? You were not so smug then, were you?" she sneered at me.

Both of us were firmly put back in our boxes. I could have argued back but I'm too long in the game for that lark, I knew I would lose!


Westmeath, to their credit, deserve great plaudits for reaching their second Leinster decider in-a-row. While others counties in Leinster have flagged in recent years, Westmeath have shown resilience emerging from poor league campaigns to deliver when most needed in championship football.

Within the Dublin camp they do respect Westmeath and that it not a clichéd opinion. Many of the players would vouch that last year's Leinster final was their toughest provincial game in recent years and that says a lot about this Westmeath side.

The Dublin view would be that there was a resolve and steeliness to Westmeath last July that other teams did not have.

I recently listened to Tom Cribbin, Westmeath manager, on the RTÉ podcast 'Jones Road' after their victory against Kildare. His honesty was refreshing as he outlined his intention of taking on the Dubs.

I was actually surprised by Cribbin's very explicit view that his team would come out and take on the Dubs.

He was obviously in buoyant mood immediately after a great win against the Lilywhites and it will be interesting, come Sunday, to see if Cribbin will hold true to his words.

When he sits down to pick his team and match up some of defenders one-on-one against the likes of Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn and Ciarán Kilkenny, the reality of what he has to face may take hold.

This is the dilemma that faces the manager of the underdog. Damage limitation to try save face and reputation or the willingness to push up and try to find weaknesses in the Dublin rearguard?

Westmeath went with the former last year and stayed competitive for the first half but their system that was built over a two-week period was always doomed to failure.

Westmeath have played their best football in recent years when they have thrown caution to the wind.

John Heslin and Kieran Martin will give them an aerial and physical threat in their full-forward line and a big performance will be needed from Paul Sharry in the middle third.

I suspect Cribbin will go for a balanced approach and try to keep at least four forwards in attacking positions.

One thing for sure is that Westmeath will not openly concede the Dublin kickout and they'll look to play as much football as possible in the Dublin half.

In lots of ways, it is a sad reflection of the Leinster Championship when the result, in many people's eyes, is already a foregone conclusion.


Dublin's dominance and the development of this special team under Jim Gavin are central to that decline in competitiveness.

While it is the year of the underdog, realistically Westmeath beating Dublin on Sunday will just not happen.

However, the best thing about being an underdog is when people say you cannot win.

If Westmeath do win, I will be happy to have this piece thrown back in my face next week - probably along with few more kicks in the shins!

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