Sunday 27 May 2018

Westmeath defeat ranks with worst

The gap is just too much for Cribbin's men to close

Jason Sherlock, who is the current Dublin forwards’ coach, in action against Westmeath in the 2004 Leinster SFC quarter-final. Picture Credit: Sportsfile
Jason Sherlock, who is the current Dublin forwards’ coach, in action against Westmeath in the 2004 Leinster SFC quarter-final. Picture Credit: Sportsfile

Tommy Lyons had a simple philosophy about off-the-ball movement and how, just by the simple act of the two corner forwards switching sides during a match, it would open up space and create gaps for long kick passes.

We worked seriously hard on that movement and how best to exploit it going into the 2004 season and that day against Westmeath, before the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse cantered past us in Croke Park, myself and Jason Sherlock had it nailed.

We went on to have a very good understanding of how each other operated, but that was the first day myself and Jayo played really well together as footballers.

Jayo had four points on the board at half-time, I had three.

By any reasonable judgement, we were cruising.

Had there been signs going in that the wheels were clanking a bit underneath the wagon?

With every manager with whom I've been involved, it always felt like we were doing the right thing at the time. Always.

Obviously, when you look back afterwards, through the prism of a defeat - especially one as sickening as that 2004 Leinster quarter-final - you start to see all kinds of mistakes and wrong-doings but at that time, we didn't feel particularly vulnerable.

Certainly not whilst three points up at half-time.

Westmeath were good thereafter but the influence of Páidí Ó Sé was just so evident.

His greatest trait as a manager was his ability to infuse belief into the teams he took on and there's probably nothing much more sophisticated that got Westmeath over the line that day.

Westmeath manager, the late Páidí Ó Sé, celebrates with his backroom staff. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Westmeath manager, the late Páidí Ó Sé, celebrates with his backroom staff. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Páidí had them absolutely convinced they could beat the Dubs.

They got a couple back at the start of the second half and looking at it now, you could see that he smelled blood and Páidí got more and more animated on the sideline as the thing began to boil up. He was in his element, kicking every ball, dominating the line.

The Hogan Stand was still under construction then, so our dressing-rooms were beneath the Cusack Stand and my horrible and abiding memory was Tommy Lyons coming off the pitch that day, down that tunnel and some of the Dublin fans spitting down on top of him.


It was one of my worst days with Dublin - maybe the worst - and the way Tommy was treated made it sickening.

Ultimately, he paid the price but what people don't appreciate is how well Tommy looked after his players.

Everything was sorted with regard to training.

And after matches, there'd be a meal and a few drinks.

But then, at the same time, he'd telling you stories about when he managed Offaly and there were guys who had only one pair of football boots and there was a hole in the boot and he couldn't get any more out of the county board and all this sort of thing.

He wanted to make sure that we were looked after but that we weren't spoiled.

And there was no question in my mind but that Tommy always had the right intention.

At the meeting later that year, when he told us he was stepping down after we lost to Kerry, he was very emotional and some of the players who had been close to him would have been quite upset because despite how it ended, he gave the job everything he had.

For the current Dubs, it will be drilled into them not to be complacent ahead of Sunday but these guys just aren't used to losing.

They're certainly not used to losing to Westmeath.

Back then, we used to lose to mid-ranking teams in the League quite regularly and even a spring victory over a Cork or Kerry was viewed as an achievement of substance.


By contrast, the current team have lost five League matches in the past four years.

So the gap in talent between these two is just too much, even if there was a degree of complacency on Dublin's part.

What sort of contest we have is entirely up to Westmeath.

The easy thing to do is set up camp on their own '45' and try and stop Dublin scoring.

But they'll need to show a bit of invention and have a go.

Break hard and play with some conviction.

Push up on the kickouts. See if they can cause a bit of confusion.

Why not force them to think a bit more?

Yes, when they defend, they must do so in numbers the reason Westmeath have been better than Kildare or Meath of late is that their good players are better than Kildare's or Meath's.

And they have, when they've played well, managed to get John Heslin, Kieran Martin and Paul Sharry on the ball with much greater frequency.

The problem with sitting deep is that Dublin don't need to be running up big scores any more.

Once they go ahead, they're content to keep possession and let the opposition come out and try and take the ball out off them and if you find yourself defending in big numbers, not pressing the ball and eight or nine points down, it must seem as though the clock is counting down at a painfully slow speed.

They were cautious last year and lost by 13 (2-13 to 0-6).

Fermanagh, by contrast, went at Dublin in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final and while they lost by eight, they scored two goals into the Hill and were applauded by their fans afterwards as much for their attitude in taking the fight to Dublin.

Westmeath will be in the Championship on Sunday evening regardless. Their manager Tom Cribbin has said they'll have a cut. Why not go into the next phase with cheers ringing in your ears?

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