Monday 18 December 2017

Two rivals gripped by fear factor

Offaly 0-10 Westmeath 0-10

Kieran Martin of Westmeath in action against Seán Pender and Niall Darby, left, of Offaly. Photo: Sportsfile
Kieran Martin of Westmeath in action against Seán Pender and Niall Darby, left, of Offaly. Photo: Sportsfile

Sometimes you get the most searing honesty from the most unexpected of places.

"Garbage from both sides. Horrible to watch," pronounced the official Westmeath GAA twitter account, at one stage in the second half of yesterday's Leinster SFC quarter-final in Bord na Móna O'Connor Park.

Harsh? Certainly. But not far off the truth. A cynic might suggest that both Offaly and Westmeath played as if stricken either by the fear of losing, or in trepidation of what comes next for the winner - a provincial semi-final against Dublin on Sunday week.

Either way, both sides made desperately poor use of the mini-gale blowing straight down the pitch ... yet there was no doubting the most relieved to have secured a second day out in Mullingar next Saturday.

Having faced the first half elements and frustrated their surprisingly inhibited neighbours for the most part, a 0-6 apiece scoreline must have seemed like a five-point lead to Offaly.


Yet they couldn't close the deal. Despite eking out a one-point lead four times in that second half, they fell into the same ultra-cautious trap that had earlier snared their rivals.

Pat Flanagan cut to the heart of it afterwards. "We showed that we're every bit as good as Westmeath," the Offaly boss declared. "We did kick more wides than they did (ten to five) and we probably got a bit scared when we saw the winning line."

Indeed, they almost gifted that line to Westmeath by coughing up two frees in stoppage time.

The first resulted in a second yellow for Ruairí Allen, albeit Denis Glennon already seemed to be slipping before being caught by a high arm. Far more important than the red was the resultant equaliser - nailed by John Heslin from just over 25 metres, curiously his second such free off his weaker left.

If that was a clutch score, Paul Sharry had a far more difficult chance to pilfer victory with virtually the last kick after another Offaly foul - this time from over 50 metres. It fell short, but not by much ... so it's onto TEG Cusack Park next Saturdya afternoon.

John Heslin of Westmeath celebrates kicking the equalising score from a free with the last score of the game
John Heslin of Westmeath celebrates kicking the equalising score from a free with the last score of the game

Afterwards, there wasn't a single dissenting press box voice over Man of the Match - on a day when several of their marquee men struggled, Westmeath skipper Ger Egan carried them to a replay, his four inspired points from midfield telling just half the story of his display.

Yet, equally, very few of those on the pitch or the 8,723 observers off it could dispute the argument that Offaly left victory behind them.

Egan among them. "Lucky to get out of there with a draw. Genuinely I thought Offaly were the best team," admitted the Westmeath No 9.

"Just a typical championship game. I don't expect anything different from Offaly. They want to beat us as much as we want to beat them. They showed huge physicality and we struggled with that - we really, really did. And we just picked our scores at the end to level it."

Graham Guilfoyle echoed that sentiment, the Offaly forward admitting: "We probably should have won it. We had the wind in the second half and we didn't utilise it enough ... we still put up great plays, but we went into our shell and we nearly brought them back into it ourselves."

They did so partly through indiscipline. Michael Brazil was probably their best player, in the first half especially, before his second yellow left Offaly a man down from the 58th minute. That accentuated their "what we have we hold" mentality in the home straight.


Then, on the hour, Anton Sullivan came on to inject pace into Offaly's attack - and scuttled off a minute later, his off-the-ball pull-down on David Lynch spotted by a linesman, with inevitable black card consequences. Allen's brace of yellows, near the end, meant Offaly finished with 13 men.

Both sides were guilty of failing to commit enough bodies to attack when backed by the elements. Yet the post-match message from both camps was upbeat. "I guarantee you, it will be more free-flowing next weekend," Egan predicted.

"It's going to be a completely different game," Guilfoyle agreed. "The wind factor could be gone out of it and we'll both go at each other again … I believe we'll win it."

Whoever does, eventually, the Dubs won't be quaking.


SCORERS - Offaly: N Dunne 0-3 (1f), M Brazil, G Guilfoyle 0-2 each, N Darby, N McNamee, J Moloney 0-1 each. Westmeath: G Egan, J Heslin (3f) 0-4 each, S Dempsey, N Mulligan 0-1 each.

OFFALY: A Mulhall 6; B Darby not on long enough, E Rigney 7, S Pender 6; N Darby 7, P Cunningham 6, C Donoghue 7; E Carroll 6, D Hanlon 6; M Brazil 8, G Guilfoyle 7, N Dunne 7; R Allen 5, N McNamee 6, J Moloney 6. Subs: J Lalor 6 for B Darby (inj 2), J O'Connor 6 for Carroll (inj 54), A Sullivan 4 for Hanlon (60), B Allen 6 for Sullivan (BC, 61), R McNamee for Dunne (66).

WESTMEATH: D Quinn 6; J Gonoud 7, K Maguire 6, K Daly 7; J Dolan 6, P Holloway 7, M McCallon 5; A Stone 5, G Egan 9; K Reilly 5, P Sharry 6, N Mulligan 6; K Martin 5, J Heslin 7, S Dempsey 6. Subs: D Lynch 6 for Dempsey (ht), J Connellan 5 for Stone (48), J Egan 6 for Reilly (52), T McDaniel 5 for Martin (58), D Glennon 6 for Mulligan (64), C McCormack for Glennon (inj 74).

WIDES: Offaly 10 (5+5); Westmeath 5 (2+3)

YELLOW: Offaly 5 (Hanlon 15, Brazil 47, 58, R Allen 70, 72); Westmeath 2 (Dolan 18, Maguire 31)

BLACK: Offaly 1 (Sullivan 61); Westmeath 0

RED: Offaly 2 (Brazil 2nd yellow 58, R Allen 2nd yellow 72); Westmeath 0

REF: P O'Sullivan (Kerry)

ATT: 8,723

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ger Egan (Westmeath).

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