It went the distance, but in the end Westmeath were celebrating a stirring Leinster SFC quarter-final win over neighbours Offaly at Cusack Park, Mullingar, last Sunday.
Westmeath carved out a 0-13 to 0-12 win as Offaly were left reflecting on a disappointing opening-period performance.
Tom Cribbin’s charges battled impressively throughout, departing 0-9 to 0-3 clear at the interval. “It was always going to be tight and tough right until the very end. I suppose there was a strong enough breeze, but probably our defensive game in the first half got us the result,” Cribbin told Midlands 103 Sport. “We just were remarkable to hold them to three scores. I think that is where it was won.
“The lads worked incredibly hard, they were dead on their feet. Even one of them has bad blisters there, they worked that hard. It is hard to put it all into words because it is after being a tough few months waiting for a game and Offaly had a game under their belt. It is brilliant that we got through. The lads deserve it, they really do.”
Having suffered a third straight Allianz Football League relegation, Cribbin was delighted with how Westmeath responded: “There was a lot of pressure on us because we knew we underperformed in the League,” he said. “Management were very disappointed with themselves, and so were the players. We all knew we didn’t get it right and we had to deliver.
“It is all about Championship. We are back in Croke Park in a semi-final, we’ve a couple of weeks to prepare, and we are up and running now.”
That Leinster semi-final against Kildare promises to be an interesting game too for Westmeath’s Kieran Martin, who shared similar sentiments. “It’s all about Championship at the end of the day, you use the League to build up your performance for Championship,” Martin said. “Things didn’t go our way but it was the same last year and we got to the Leinster final. We want to get back there this year.
“There was a lot of pressure. Offaly had that win behind them and we were coming in fresh, but we worked hard. I know we’ve a few lads gone off the panel but we’ve others willing to step up and do it.”
“It was a great win. They got a bit of run and we just did well to hold it out. The defence was tremendous, they were fired up and it was incredible to watch it. We probably should’ve got a few more scores, but they did the work for us.”
Westmeath’s willingness to graft throughout the match, though, was what pleased Cribbin: “It was an unbelievable first-half performance and in the second half they stuck with it,” Cribbin remarked. “We just defended really well. There was a strong breeze, we knew it was worth three or four points minimum. The lads put in a workmanlike performance, that is what it was there. Local derby games are always like that, it isn’t always the best football.
“They had chances, but I thought we could have got a free or two towards the end. I thought John Heslin was pulled down for a definite free, but it is tough on a referee in that type of a situation when the game is so tight to make a call like that. I think we just about deserved our win overall.”
Offaly, managed by former Westmeath supremo Pat Flanagan, left Mullingar severely “disappointed” following the loss: “It is very difficult to take, we have worked exceptionally hard,” Clara native Flanagan said. “We had opportunities, but we just didn’t take them near the end.
“We went in six points behind, but I wasn’t overly concerned because we had a severe wind to come in the second half. We never got back to draw the game, if we had I think that we would have pushed on.
“We showed spirit and determination, but we never got the opportunity to draw level. We had made the chances, but we didn’t play the ball that we had against Longford. We kicked some poor wides at different times. When you are under pressure and behind looking to get that equalising point it is that bit more difficult.”
Westmeath face Kildare at Croke Park on Sunday, June 26, at 2pm.