With the announcement this week that Dessie Dolan is to be inducted into the GAA hall of fame, fans of the maroon and white will be hoping that the present crop of players can take the game to Dublin this weekend. To be fair, fans of all counties to face the dubs in recent years have hoped for the same. Sunday will be Westmeath’s third shot at Dublin in Croke Park in as many years and there is a sense that the supporters are once again growing accustomed to big championship days out.
Following the disappointing drawn game with Offaly, Westmeath followed up with a much more convincing performance in the replay last Saturday. They showed more dynamism in attack, largely helped by the return to fully firing form of talisman John Heslin. With a total of 1-06 he was a standout performer in a forward line which is starting to fire at full capacity, with Kieran Martin (1-02), Paul Sharry (0-3) and early sub Frank Boyle (0-2) all producing stellar performances in front of goal. In defence, there was a certain level of tenacity which will need to be replicated if there is to be any chance of containing the ferocious Dublin forward line. Full back Kevin Maguire was a rock for Westmeath and they will need him at his best again to provide protection for goalkeeper Darren Quinn. The pace of both James Dolan and Killian Daly will be an asset for the Lake County in clearing their defensive lines in what is sure to be a frantic 70 minutes of football for the Westmeath defensive unit.
There aren’t many superlatives left that have not already been used to describe this current Dublin squad. It is slightly frightening to think that any player in the matchday squad would walk onto most other county teams with ease. The loss of Diarmuid Connolly is huge yes, but it would likely not be felt until the business end of the all Ireland championship at which point he will be poised to re-enter the fray. The supporting cast for want of a better term are more than capable of picking up the slack. Messers Brogan, Rock and Kilkenny will be as fired up as ever and will not be taking this Westmeath challenge lightly, as if they ever take any challenge lightly. Midfield colossus Brian Fenton has been as imperious as ever this season and the likely Westmeath midfield pairing of Alan Stone and Ger Egan will have their hands full with him alone on Sunday afternoon. The return of Jack McCaffrey to the setup, the proverbial prodigal son of Dublin football, has helped the champions go from strength to strength this year as they so often have in recent seasons.
It is 13 years since the Leinster quarter final Westmeath scalp of Dublin in 2004. Westmeath proceeded to overcome Wexford and Laois to claim their first senior championship title, under the guidance of the great Paidí ó Sé.
Manager Tom Cribbin and also forward Kieran Martin have been quoted this week as saying that Westmeath will not simply cower in defence in face of the Dublin onslaught. Westmeath were clinical in their dismissal of Offaly, however this Dublin group of players will represent a wholly different beast to an Offaly team who were off the pace for large periods of the game.
If the Lake County men can channel some of the spirit of the great 2004 Leinster title winning team then they have a chance, which these days against the Dubs is likely the best they can hope for.
Westmeath VS Dublin
Throw in – 4PM – Croke Park – 25/06/17