London beating Sligo last weekend caused quite a stir while Louth and Wicklow also upset the odds as they accounted for Laois and Longford respectively. Yet none of these ‘upsets’ would come anywhere near the sense of shock that would reverberate should Westmeath turn Dublin over on Saturday evening.
Despite losing the Division 2 final Pat Flanagan’s side have had a great year so far, gaining promotion to the top tier of the league and helping themselves to a comfortable win over Carlow in the opening round of the championship. Yet meeting the reigning provincial and league champions in their own back yard is without doubt their toughest assignment yet.
Realistically Westmeath will need everything to go right for them and hope that Dublin have an off day if they are to advance to the Leinster semi-final. The bookies have Dublin priced at 1/10 with Westmeath at 7-1 or plus seven points in the handicap and it is easy to see why that is the case.
Yet the beauty of sport is that upsets do happen and like most Westmeath supporters travelling to Croker on Saturday evening, I will be doing so more in hope than expectation.
For the players though it will have to be different. They will have to believe, just as we did back in 2004, that beating Dublin is within their compass. Denis Glennon, speaking after the Carlow game, stated that while they respect Dublin they don’t fear them.
Any weaknesses Westmeath have will be fully exposed by a team of Dublin’s quality. One thing Westmeath will have to avoid doing is making a slow start which became their trademark during the league. Like the Kilkenny hurlers, Dublin’s footballers like to exert their authority early and then play champagne football when they are comfortably ahead. For that reason the opening quarter is vital. If Pat Flanagan’s men can weather the early storm, then their odds will shorten considerably.
Westmeath leaked a soft goal in the league final and again against Carlow and that is not something they can afford to do against Bernard Brogan and co. The Hill comes alive when Dublin hit the net so keeping them quiet must be a priority.
Dublin’s physicality has to also be a cause of concern. While Westmeath will match the Metropolitans for speed and skill they will be no match in the physicality stakes.
Dessie Dolan’s hamstring is causing problems again and it would be a serious blow should the Garrycastle ace be ruled out. Otherwise Flanagan has a full hand to pick from.
The last time the sides met in championship was four years ago and Westmeath supporters will need no reminding that they suffered a whopping 27 point defeat that day. I can’t see that happening this time around. Flanagan has instilled great spirit and confidence in the side. They will be competing in Division 1 next season and a heavy defeat here would not bode well for our hopes next spring.
It is a big ask but if we make that good start, hold our own in the middle third of the field, and get our forwards to click, then Dublin might be in for a surprise. We live in hope.