The performance was plucky, but Westmeath were still defeated in last Sunday's interesting Allianz Football League Division One encounter at Cusack Park.
Despite a second top tier reversal Westmeath manager Paul Bealin was upbeat about Westmeath's display, especially after half-time. When Dessie Dolan came off the bench to poke an opportunistic goal the shock was on, but Dublin responded to eke out a win. Having suffered against Cork, Bealin took nuggets of encouragement from how Westmeath reacted during the Dublin contest. “We worked really hard. To say Dublin were vulnerable is something you’d find difficult, or unusual to say, but I think the game was there to be closed out,” was Bealin's verdict.
“Every game for us is extremely difficult, and Derry away, next, will be no different. But look, to be beaten by four points, and while I hate losing games, it’s an improvement on last week.
“Certainly in the first half it was a little bit frustrating because when you are playing with a breeze like that you want to make sure that if you create chances you take the chances. We didn’t do that so we gave Dublin every opportunity at six-three to come back into the game.
“The second half was encouraging. Dessie came on to get a goal at the right time and we went a point ahead. We pushed on and worked hard, but they got a few scores at the end to close the game out. It is a much better second half, a huge improvement when looking at where we were the previous week in Cork. From that perspective it was a positive.”
Much speculation had surrounded John Heslin's involvement, but the in-form UCD student, who has been bothered by an ankle injury, was eventually given the green light to play. Bealin acknowledged Heslin's importance to the Westmeath cause.
“It was one of those ones where he was 50-50. We didn’t name him initially, but we wanted to give him every chance. The physio had a good look at him on Saturday and felt it was more bruising than muscle or tear issues so we took a chance on him. He got through the game okay and didn’t make it any worse.
“I think the game was there to be closed out by us, we had a few chances. Still I feel that in the first half we gave ourselves too much to do. We had time on the ball out the field to get it into John Heslin, but a few times the last pass we didn’t get him on the ball. We had a couple of wides when we should have clipped scores over too.”
Dublin's smashing ability to plunder goals was a real feature in 2013 so Bealin admitted that Westmeath were keen to avoid that scenario.
“They have strength in depth in abundance. It is something we don’t really have here. Dublin have a strong team, a great team. We worked really hard on the defensive side. I know Dublin football, I have been involved for 20 years. If you give Dublin space inside they will cause you all sorts of problems. We wanted to have the closest player to put pressure on the ball so they didn’t create too many goalscoring opportunities.”
Division One was always going to be a significant task for Westmeath and with Derry next on the agenda in Owenbeg on Sunday March 2 Bealin wants to ensure his charges are prepared properly. Sigerson Cup commitments make it even tougher, but Bealin didn't expect it to be any other way as Westmeath know that a victory must be posted soon if an instant relegation is to be avoided. “Every game for us will be extremely difficult. Derry away will be no different, but we can refocus. The Sigerson is ongoing and we have a few players involved which isn’t ideal. The difficulty we have is that in the next few weeks we won’t have a full squad properly together to prepare for Derry and they are a formidable team. It will be a difficult task going to get two points.”