Westmeath’s Championship campaign was ended at the Round 4B qualifiers stage following an eventful encounter against Mayo at Croke Park on Saturday evening.
Ultimately a poor opening period display proved costly as Westmeath, who staged a brave second-half rally, were beaten by Stephen Rochford’s team.
Despite the loss there was plenty to admire in the manner in which Westmeath competed after the restart, even though a late Mayo flurry ensured they prevailed by 3-15 to 1-14.
“The scoreline doesn’t reflect the game, but we didn’t play in the first half,” was manager Tom Cribbin’s verdict in an honest interview with Midlands 103. “Again we made some small errors there - small margins.”
Jason Doherty and Cillian O’Connor netted goals for Mayo, but James Dolan replied and Kieran Martin came close to adding another major for Westmeath.
“We just didn’t play in the first half, every little thing. Why I am not sure,” Cribbin said.
“In our other three Championship matches we put in great first-half performances and we wilted in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second half. Here we were so focused on making sure that we did deliver in the second half.”
An Aidan O’Shea goal in the closing seconds decorated Mayo’s success, but Cribbin admitted that Westmeath were left reflecting on what might have been. “A lot of questions will be asked, and maybe rightly so, because we will ask them of ourselves. Should we have just gone for it from the word go? That is easy to say in hindsight, but if you go back to the first half we kicked a few poor wides, the penalty was bad against us. If you take them out of it we could have been a lot closer at half time.
“There is a lot of character in the team. We just didn’t deliver in the first half, we didn’t play good football. The reason they were so far ahead was because of our errors - that is not knocking Mayo. I just think we made a few basic errors and they cost us dearly.”
Despite suffering defeats against Dublin and Mayo, Cribbin remains adamant that there is significant potential in the Westmeath panel.
“We had a lot of young lads who had played no league football and did really well in the Championship on the hard ground. I think there is a really bright future there for them and for the team. The team is quite young. Frank is 29 this year and apart from him everyone is 26 or younger, a lot of them are only 23 or 24.”
Denis Corroon’s red card was a blow too. “He had stabilised the midfield really well with Darragh. Momentum was with us, it probably just came at the wrong time. It wasn’t a dirty game, maybe they were two yellow cards.”
Cribbin feels that progress is being made. “We are nearly there. To be up with the top six or eight in the country you need a very strong panel, you have to have 35 or 36 lads really committed to the cause. It can be hard on the eight or 10 who don’t get to tog out, but that is the way you have to be.
“They are a great bunch of lads, they are very committed to the cause. Hopefully now it is onwards and upwards for them.”
A crucial Mayo burst before the break proved to be decisive. “When things go wrong against us, the wheels can come off for a couple of minutes,” Cribbin remarked. “That couple of minutes against the wrong team is enough to put you out of the game completely.
“When they got those, they went nine or 10 up in the first half - it’s too much to be giving a team of this quality.”
Mayo face Tyrone in what promises to be an interesting All-Ireland quarter-final, with Rochford acknowledging the “tough game” his charges received from Westmeath.
“Certainly, their transition from the turnovers will be very, very pacy,” Rochford said of Tyrone.
“Their system to date has been the two sweepers in place. In seven days, we will know if it was a benefit. But this was a tough game. Tough games are better preparation, certainly in preparing for the type of challenge a team like Tyrone can present.”