If ever a score line created a false impression of a game then this is a classic example. To anyone who didn’t see the game it might appear that Dublin had little difficulty in securing back to back titles. After all they enjoyed a six point half time cushion and ran out six point winners in the end.
Yet the sizeable Westmeath following that journeyed to Parnell Park must still be wondering how we left this game behind. After a very nervous and subdued opening 30 minutes, Brendan Hackett’s men were a completely transformed side after half-time. From the throw-in they grabbed control of the game and completely dictated the action for 25 minutes.
Having trailed 0-9 to 0-3 at the break, Westmeath reduced the deficit to just one point, 0-10 to 0-9, by the 47th minute. If there was betting-in-running at that stage Westmeath would have been a short price indeed.
Dublin managed just 0-1 in the opening 28 minutes of the second half. All over the field the men in maroon had the beating of their men. John Heslin was giving a master class in midfield and Conor Lynam was converting every chance up front.
There was one major problem however; Dublin were still a point to the good, and when four or five great chances to draw level were squandered, a nervousness began to spread among the maroon and white army. A James Durkan effort at goal blazed narrowly wide while James Dolan (twice ) and Tommy McDaniels also saw efforts trail the wrong side of the uprights. One couldn’t help wondering was it going to be one of those days...
With two minutes of normal time remaining disaster struck when, against the run of play, Dublin raided up-field and scored a killer goal. Two injury time points from the men in blue mattered little except to add to the deception of the final score line.
A win would have been a massive boost to football in Westmeath. Winning is a great habit to get. The confidence that comes from winning would have been an extra weapon in the arsenal of this fine team for the years to come.
As well as bringing some much needed silverware to the county it would have set up an intriguing all-Ireland semi-final meeting with near neighbours Roscommon. Roscommon’s Donie Shine and Niall Daly played colleges football in Athlone Community College alongside Ben Moran, James Dolan, John Egan, Ian Coffey, Marc McCallan, and Alan Fitzpatrick, so that would have added an extra dimension to such a meeting.
Tipperary have been crowned Munster champions for the first time ever while Cavan and Donegal contest the Ulster final. It really is a wide open championship which makes the defeat even harder to swallow.
Yet from a Westmeath point of view there was much to be proud about on Sunday last. Even allowing for a strong downfield wind which aided Westmeath in the second half, rarely have I seen a team grab a game by the scruff in the manner these young Westmeath men did. The pity was that they were so far behind at the break. A string of dodgy refereeing decisions played a part in that but so too did poor handling and over-elaboration.
Even at times in the second half when we were on top I felt we needed to be more direct. If the ball had been played in quicker to the full forward line then I think we would have got a greater return than 0-2 from them.
I have no doubts that if we got level at all we would have gone on to win. That’s football though and Dublin deserve credit too for the way they finished out the game.
There are nine or ten of the Westmeath side at least that should have bright futures ahead at senior level provided they stay focused. A good U21 doesn’t automatically make a good senior. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Another positive is that about 11 of the starting 15, and most of the other panel members are underage next year. While that in itself doesn’t guarantee anything, it sure is a good starting point.
Disappointing as it is to lose a final, all concerned can be proud of their exploits this year. The wins over Kildare, Meath, and Laois will not be forgotten. There is no reason why we can’t go one step better next year.
Roscommon U21s crowned Connacht champions
In any championship match, most of all a final, the result is all that matters. The significant Roscommon support which travelled to Markievicz Park last Saturday evening cared little that they were treated to a dour struggle, as Jimmy Gacquin’s men captured the Connacht title for the sixth time.
It was a real dog-eat-dog battle until substitute Alan O’Hara goaled in the 56th minute to put Roscommon in the driving seat.
The win is a timely boost to football in the county. I’m sure the players and management will do all in their power to down the Dubs and claim a place in the all-Ireland final. With a little luck anything is possible.