In his latest column for Leinster GAA, former Dubs star Shane Ryan looks ahead to the Dublin v Westmeath semi-final on Sunday:
Considering Dublin’s dominance in Leinster, which has them in sight of a seventh title in a row, there is a temptation for other counties to adopt a very defensive strategy, or ‘park the bus’ as it has come to be known.
It’s understandable that teams want to try and minimize Dublin’s scoring threat and Carlow, to their credit, managed that for a long period of the game a few weeks ago.
But if you are over-defensive, you are conceding defeat straight away, there’s no way you are going to win. So I think the best way for Westmeath to approach the game is go out and back themselves – give themselves a license to play without resorting to two sweepers, for example.
I’m not saying this strategy will work every time, but Westmeath were in the last two Leinster finals and while they held out well in the first half of those games, they couldn’t contain Dublin for the full 70 minutes.
Westmeath were probably relieved to draw the first game against Offaly, but will now be riding high after beating their local rivals in the replay. And with the experience of the big day under their belts, and the benefit of beating Wexford in the Division 4 final at Croke Park this season, they certainly shouldn’t be over-awed by the occasion.
Everyone knows John Heslin is one of the top forwards in the country – some of his scoring at club level is phenomenal and he was man-of-the-match in the Sigerson Cup final with UCD in 2016.
Tom Cribbin needs Kieran Martin at his best, and he was back in top form in the replay also. They can depend on Ger Egan to drive them on from midfield – he’s been a real leader for them in recent seasons.
Having said that, Dublin haven’t got into their current position by treating a championship game less serious than another, and will know they’ll have to be close to their best to beat Westmeath.
It wouldn’t be correct to say Dublin struggled in the league – they could still have won the final even though Kerry deserved it on the day – but they did stutter through some of the games and Tyrone and Monaghan could have beaten them. Maybe Dublin are just not as far ahead of the rest as in other years.
Jim Gavin will try to minimize the impact of Diarmuid Connelly’s absence as much as possible. He probably has told the squad many times over the years that the team is bigger than any one player. There’s no doubting Diarmuid’s quality, but there’s lots of talent elsewhere on the panel, including some of the Under 21’s. So I’d imagine Jim will focus on saying not that Dublin are losing a player, but that there’s an opportunity for someone else.
I was on the Dublin team that lost to Westmeath in the 2004 quarter-final and, of course, they famously went on to win the Leinster final that year. My main memory of that game was the onslaught we endured from them – they were unrelenting and worked so hard that we weren’t allowed to play anything like what we wanted to.
They also beat us in a League Division 2 final a few years after that and again I remember they brought a higher level of intensity than we were expecting. That’s what they will have to do again on Sunday if they are to compete, although Dublin are still clear favourites to advance to meet Kildare.