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The challenge facing Westmeath for a 3rd straight year: How do you set up against the Dubs?

Kieran Martin says Westmeath won’t go ultra-defensive like Carlow did in the quarter-final.

THIS WEEKEND, FOR a third straight year, Westmeath take on the might of Dublin in the Leinster senior football championship.

The Lake County were on the receiving end of 15 and 13-point defeats in 2016 and 2015 respectively, but they did remain competitive with Dublin up until half-time in both games.

Kieran Martin Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The third quarter proved decisive for the Dubs as they clicked through the gears and made a break for home, blowing Tom Cribbin’s side out of the water after half-time.

Westmeath set-up with a swarmed defense in the provincial final two years ago and held the Dubs to the lowest score they’ve ever put up under Jim Gavin in Leinster. The problem was at the far end where the underdogs could only raise the white flag six times.

In last year’s Leinster decider, Westmeath were slightly more offensive although they still employed a double-sweeper system. With just a week to prepare for this encounter, Kieran Martin doesn’t see them operating quite as defensively as Carlow did to a reasonable degree of success in the quarter-final.

“That’s up to the management but I can’t see us (putting 15 men behind the ball),” he says. ”We’re at our best when we’re running and attacking so let’s just go for it. Nothing to lose.

“The worst thing I think you can do is probably overanalyse it. Croke Park is a big pitch so hopefully we can use the space to our advantage and give it a right good go.

“It’s hard to know what way to go into facing them. Look, we tried both ways. We’re just going to put our heads down. I think we’re more mature, wiser.

“That few years probably helped us, a lot of us were only 23 or 24 going in to play them for the first time. We’re probably that small bit wiser and you never know, they were beaten once this year so hopefully we can do it again.”

Kieran Martin Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In the 2016 final Dublin, who were without the marauding runs of Jack McCaffrey and James McCarthy from deep, struggled initially before the half-time introduction of Paddy Andrews changed matters entirely.

Gavin made the bold move to push up with eight forwards for the second-half, as 1-4 from Bernard Brogan and 1-2 from Kevin McManamon inspired the Dubs to victory.

But Westmeath did threaten at stages in front of Stephen Cluxton’s goal, with John Heslin and Martin looking dangerous under high-angled balls from deep.

“It’s (all about) competing for the full 70 minutes and that’s where our panel this year will help with that. We’re able to compete with teams for 40 or 50 minutes, and it’s when they’re brining on the All-Stars for the last 15 minutes, that’s where they can hurt you.

“But look, we’re stronger this year and hopefully we’ll be able to do the same as what they were doing to us.

“It’s great when you have the likes of Denis (Glennon) coming on and hitting the crossbar. It’s probably our best attribute this year that our subs are good enough to start and they’re making a huge impact when they come on.”

It’s interesting to look back on that Leinster final 12 months ago through the perspective of hindsight.

The knock on the Dublin defence a year ago was that they were susceptible to aerial deliveries to the edge of the square in the absence of recently departed Rory O’Carroll.

That September Jonny Cooper and Philly McMahon were named on the All-Star full-back line after retaining their stranglehold on the Sam Maguire, and the New Zealand-based O’Carroll was quickly forgotten.

Post-Leinster final in 2016, Cribbin drew some criticism for openly admitting that Westmeath had targeted Connolly during the game.

inpho_01085376 Source: INPHO/Tommy Grealy

Kevin Maguire, Ray Connellan and Kieran Martin with Diarmuid Connolly Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

At one stage wing-back James Dolan rustled the St Vincent’s forward’s hair, and Connolly responded by head-locking Dolan and dragged him to the ground. Instantly, three Westmeath set upon Connolly as he was on the deck. Both Connolly and Dolan received yellows.

“Look, Diarmuid’s a fabulous player and he can get a bit excited at times and probably we were looking for him,” admitted Tom Cribbin after the game.

“We needed a whammy. We have to be honest we were hoping to get someone to entice him. Sure, that’s what most teams do. He’s one of the best on the country, if not the best.”

Connolly will miss the game this time around having been banned for 12 weeks for “minor physical interference” with a linesman. He was also black-carded twice during the league, having failed to learn from his altercation with Dolan in last year’s provincial final.

Centre-back Paddy Holloway will miss out with a cruciate injury for the visitors, but Martin is in an optimistic mood ahead of the game.

“Look, for a long time we didn’t get (to Croke Park) so we’re kind of getting used to it now at this stage. It’s great to be going up there and playing. Where else would you want to be, (playing in) one of the best stadiums in the world.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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