Dublin 0-13 Westmeath 1-08 by Daire Walsh
Reigning Leinster champions Dublin are through to yet another provincial decider after a hard-fought contest against Westmeath at Croke Park on Sunday.
Late scores from Jason Sherlock and wing-back Barry Cahill were enough to force the outcome in Dublin’s favour and they prevailed on a score line of 0-13 to 1-8.
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The last time that Dublin lost a game in the Leinster championship, the Lakesiders were also the opposition and for large parts of the first half, it looked like they might come out on top once again as they held the lead from the 7th minute until the 33rd minute.
Despite this, it was Dublin who had the brighter start and they were a point ahead after two minutes when full-forward Conal Keaney converted a close range free after a foul on captain Alan Brogan.
However, a point from play off the left boot of Denis Glennon helped to settle their nerves and this was soon followed up by what turned out to be the game’s only goal.
The move started in the middle of the field with Donal O’Donoghue, who had a fine game throughout, who hit the ball into space for right half-back Michael Ennis to run into and he beat Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton to fist it into the Dublin net.
This was a huge morale boost for Westmeath, and it was soon followed up by another point from Glennon, who was giving full-back Ross McConnell a torrid time. Dublin responded well though, and they had two points in a matter of minutes from Alan Brogan and a Tomas Quinn free.
It may have been expected that Dublin would push on from here but Westmeath came back for more and were 1-4 to 0-3 points ahead after 14 minutes thanks to two Dessie Dolan frees.
Dublin were really struggling at this point and suffered a hammer blow after 17 minutes when Bernard Brogan, only just back from suspension, had to go off with an injury to be replaced by St. Vincent’s clubman Diarmuid Connolly.
This was almost immediately after Shane Ryan resumption to the field of play after being temporarily replaced by Ciaran Whelan.
Dublin really needed to settle down quickly and an inspirational point by corner-back David Henry lifted spirits both on and off the pitch for Dublin and this was soon followed by another free from Quinn.
Then, on the nineteenth minute, substitute Connolly kicked a nice point from 30 metres out to reduce the margin to the bare minimum.
Westmeath dominance was beginning to wane at this stage as Dublin made the wise move of switching David Henry onto Glennon, but thankfully for them Dublin weren’t hurting them on the scoreboards as John Keane was doing a superb job on their scorer-in-chief Alan Brogan.
A score from Garrycastle man Dolan settled Westmeath nerves but Dublin finished the half with a brace of frees from Keaney and Quinn.
Dublin can certainly have considered themselves extremely lucky to be level at half-time as they were well below their best.
There were a number of changes for Dublin in the second half with Paul Casey replacing McConnell in defence, Mark Vaughan coming in for the ineffective Paul Flynn and Whelan once again acting as temporary sub for Ryan.
In fact, it was Whelan who got the first score of the second half when he went on one of his trademark runs into the opposing defense.
Score were few and far between in the second half and we had to wait another nine minutes for another score. When it came, it was Dolan once again who pointed with a close-in free and a minute later he knocked over an excellent point from play to put Westmeath a point ahead with 25 minutes remaining.
Shane Ryan came back in for Whelan three minutes later, though Whelan would soon re-emerge instead of Eamon Fennell, to give Dublin a bit of drive going forward and they were soon back on level terms when Connolly got his second score of the day.
This immediately followed up by a point from half-back Colin Moran.
Suddenly Westmeath found themselves behind and sought to play a trump card when they introduced the heavily bandaged Martin Flanagan with thirteen minutes left.
Westmeath were guilty of some poor wides in the final quarter with Dessie Dolan’s free being the worse. Equally, Dublin had some poor shot selections with Keaney missing two very scoreable frees.
The game was still on a knife edge but Dublin managed to pull through in the end thanks to vital scores from open play by Sherlock and Cahill.
Denis Glennon, whose influence waned in the second half, knocked over a free in the closing minutes to reduce the margin to two points.
This wasn’t enough however and Westmeath go on to play Tipperary in the Qualifiers, while Dublin can look forward to a Leinster Final against Wexford.
On the evidence of this match, they have a lot of work to do if they are to win their first All-Ireland since 1995, and some of their bigger players will have to up their performance to avoid the disappointment and heartache of the past few seasons.
Dublin: S Cluxton, D Henry (0-1), R McConnell, S O’ Shaughnessy, C Moran (0-1), B Cullen, B Cahill (0-1), E Fennell, S Ryan, P Flynn, J Sherlock (0-1), B Brogan, A Brogan (0-1), C Keaney (0-2f), T Quinn (0-3f).
Subs: C Whelan (0-1) for Ryan (blood) 6-14 & 34-48, D Connolly (0-2) for B Brogan 17, P Casey for McConnell, M Vaughan for Flynn (both ht), Whelan for Fennell 54, B McManamon for Quinn 65.
Westmeath: G Connaughton, F Boyle, K Gavin, J Keane, M Ennis (1-0), D Heavin, D Healy, D O’ Donoghue, D Duffy, F Wilson, J Smith, D Harte, D Dolan (0-5, 3f), D Glennon (0-3, 1f), D Bannon.
Subs: A Mangan for D Bannon 22, M Flanagan for J Smith 57, David Glennon for Wilson 67.