Sunday 25 February 2018

How do you try to stop the Dubs?

Cribbin hints at more positive game-plan as Westmeath plot for their Mission Impossible

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly in action against Meath during last Sunday’s Leinster SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Pics: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly in action against Meath during last Sunday’s Leinster SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Pics: Sportsfile
Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin before Sunday’s Leinster SFC semi-final victory over Kildare at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Twelve months ago, Westmeath ditched their attacking game-plan and embraced the multi-sweeper world of ultra defence for their Leinster final showdown with those unstoppable Dubs.

Now, against all expectation, these serial league sinners are back in another provincial final and the Sky Blue giant awaits once more.

Only this time, their manager Tom Cribbin has dropped a large hint that Westmeath will take more of an attacking gamble on July 17 ... partly because he knows that coming back with the exact same tactic is doomed to failure, and partly because the people of Westmeath will demand a more ambitious plan.

"We have to try something different. We're going to have to come up with some kind of plan to have a go, and if it backfires fair enough. I think a lot of people would live with that," Cribbin told The Herald.

"Okay, you end up being beaten by 20 points because you tried something different, you had a real go at them, and maybe you lived with them for 20 minutes or questioned them for 45 minutes … but I think we have to try and see can we come up with something that asks questions.


"If we go out and just play a safe game, I don't think people would be happy with that in Westmeath. I don't think people in football in general would respect that and be happy with it.

"I don't think our players would want that either. I think they'll want to have a go, and whatever kind of crazy thing we come up with, I think they'll accept that."

Speaking the day after Westmeath's latest comeback from the Leinster semi-final brink, this time from six points down against Kildare, Cribbin stressed that nothing is finalised just yet. The next few days are about physical recovery for the players and lots of thinking, and talking, on the part of management.

Last year, fresh from their history-making victory over Meath, they had just a fortnight to concoct a strategy for Dublin. As a damage limitation tactic, their pretty extreme version of blanket defence was partially successful - they only trailed by four points at the break, and confined Dublin to a final tally of 2-13.

But others were aghast that Westmeath, appearing in only their fourth ever Leinster SFC final, would set up in such a fashion that enabled them to score just 0-6.

The flip side is that when a rank outsider is pitted against Dublin, to pretend you can beat them going man-for-man equates to footballing suicide.

Cribbin now has the surreal distinction of overseeing back-to-back relegations (from Division 2 to 4) while leading his adopted county to successive Leinster finals for the first time in history.

He couldn't afford to start planning for Dublin before Sunday for one obvious reason - "I guarantee you we'd have been caught by Offaly or we'd have been caught by Kildare."

He expanded: "Some guys would say 'How can you plan for two to three weeks?' You can because these lads believe in me and I believe in them, and we trust each other.

"So, if I go and I ask them to play a completely different way on Friday night, and we work on it for three weeks, they will be able to deliver that game-plan because we believe in each other and we're starting to get that trust and bond.

"It comes down to, then, if you're just good enough. At the end of the day, being 100 per cent realistic, if you looked at the panels you'd say no. If we both had to start and finish with the same 15, you might. On a given day, if all my top guys performed at their very, very best, and some of the Dublin lads didn't, we might cause an upset.


"Because Kieran Martin, John Heslin, Jimmy Dolan, Paul Sharry, Ger Egan … these lads can get goals. And it would be something like the Cavan match against Tyrone - we'd have to try and orchestrate three or four goals and maybe get six or seven points, and try and hold Dublin to 16 or 17 scores without letting them get a goal, and sneak a victory that way.

"Realistically," he concluded, "I think that's the only way a second tier team can beat a Dublin or a Kerry."

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