Derry were deservingly crowned Division 2 champions at the end of a highly entertaining game in which the final scoreline is more than a little flattering to The Oak Leaf county. The sides were level going into injury time and Pat Flanagan’s men were live contenders to collect their fourth ever division 2 title but it was Derry who hit 1-3 without reply to seal matters.
It was a disappointing end to a game in which Westmeath were at times outstanding but unfortunately only played in fits and starts. Yet again we were slow to start and were four points behind before we got to grips with Derry. When Flanagan’s men did start to play they strung some great moves together and kicked some top drawer points to surge 0-10 to 0-7 ahead as half-time approached.
Westmeath took the foot off the pedal and allowed Derry to kick three unanswered points to leave the sides level at the break. Both sides traded points early in the second half before an injury to Raymond Wilkinson broke the momentum of the game.
The introduction of Dessie Dolan with 20 minutes remaining reaped instant dividends as he kicked a brace of points to edge Westmeath ahead. Derry hit back again with three unanswered points. Further points from Dolan and Heslin brought the sides level as injury time beckoned.
Four minutes of injury time were signalled and Derry made hay in those extra minutes kicking 1-3, the goal of the soft variety. The men in maroon and white certainly didn’t deserve to lose by six points.
Despite the outcome there are plenty of positives to take from the performance. Joe Quinn certainly has the side in great shape three weeks out from championship. The likes of Ger Egan, James Dolan, Callum McCormack bring serious speed to the side. Six players got on the score-sheet which is encouraging, although in Derry’s case 11 players contributed to their total.
After a slow start Kevin McGuire grew into the game and put in a good hour’s work on danger-man Eoin Bradley. David Duffy also put in a decent shift even if Derry did enjoy the better of the midfield exchanges overall. John Heslin’s free-taking was also impeccable and will be a great asset in the months ahead.
Dessie Dolan showed there’s life in the old dog yet with a valuable contribution when introduced. What if he had been introduced earlier? He is likely to see more game time against Carlow.
On the downside Westmeath’s failure to play for the full 70-plus minutes will have to be addressed. They also struggled at times when Derry ran at them. We lost the midfield sector which will also be a cause of concern. Kieran Martin, perhaps Westmeath’s most consistent player throughout the league, was a pale shadow of himself both from play and frees. The failure to raise a green flag is also something which Flanagan will be hoping to rectify in the coming weeks.
All attention now turns to the championship opener against Carlow in three weeks time. It is certainly a banana skin but Flanagan is sure to have his side well warned against complacency. On this evidence we are moving in the right direction and have every reason to look forward to the championship with confidence.