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'It's hard enough to deal with six, never mind seven Dublin forwards'

Kieran Martin is confident Westmeath will be better for their experiences against both All-Ireland finalists this year.

Westmeath star Kieran Martin.
Westmeath star Kieran Martin.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

WHEN WESTMEATH JOGGED back towards their Croke Park dressing-room just one point in arrears, they knew they were getting under the skin of the Dubs.

The Leinster champions, and talisman Diarmuid Connolly, were clearly frustrated by the Lake County side, just as they had been in the opening half of the 2015 final. But in the end, just like 12 months previously, Jim Gavin’s side still went on to win at a canter.

It’s been another yin and yang year for Westmeath — a second successive relegation saw them drop to Division 4 of the league but their championship campaign gave them legitimate reasons for optimism.

They reached a second successive Leinster final for the first time in the county’s history, after claiming wins against Offaly and Kildare, and their two championship losses — in which they were competitive for decent stretches — came against this year’s All-Ireland finalists.

While they showed defensive resolve in the opening half against Dublin, only for Gavin’s tactical reshuffle to ultimately unlock their rearguard, they also displayed attacking flair in abundance when giving Mayo a real rattle late on in the qualifiers.

Stephen Rochford’s side ultimately prevailed by seven points after racing out of the blocks but when Kieran Martin narrowed the gap to three points with 10 minutes on the clock, Tom Cribbin’s charges looked a real chance to cause a championship upset.

Mayo responded through a Cillian O’Connor free and Westmeath lost Denis Corroon to a second yellow card, but it was Aidan O’Shea’s late goal that put the gloss on the scoreline and the result beyond doubt.

Looking back now, at the launch of the Bord na Móna 2017 Leinster GAA series, which includes the O’Byrne Cup, Martin can’t help but feel Westmeath are close to making serious progress if they can bring all the facets of their game together next season.

“It’s hard for a team to play well for a whole 70 minutes, but we always seem to do it for either one half or the other,” Martin admits.

“That’s what we’re going to work on; see what went wrong in the halves that we didn’t play well, and see what we did right in the halves that we did play well.

“You have to take the positives out of it. I think the second half against Mayo was probably the best football we played all year. We just went for it – we had to. And I think it’s a good way to go at teams too, because they’re not expecting it either.

“Like, we were a couple of points down against Kildare and we went for it, and within 10-15 minutes we were a couple of points up.

“So I think the management are looking at that as well, instead of trying to hold teams off. With Dublin it’s a different situation, you have to try and work something.”

Kieran Martin with Keith Higgins Kieran Martin tussles with Mayo's Keith Higgins. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

After frustrating the Leinster and All-Ireland champions for 35 minutes with their defence reinforced with two sweepers, Gavin replaced Eric Lowndes with Paddy Andrews at the break.

It meant the Dubs had an extra attacker on the field as Ciaran Kilkenny dropped into a deeper role. And it did just the trick as the Boys in Blue tagged on 10 unanswered points in the first 20 minutes of the second period and the Westmeath challenge fell asunder.

Goals from Bernard Brogan and Kevin McManamon simply added to Westmeath’s pain as Gavin’s side romped to a 2-19 to 0-10 win.

Martin admits Westmeath need to add versatility to their game to really challenge the Dubs over 70 minutes, but he feels it’s something well within their capabilities. They proved that when their backs were against the wall when Mayo were the opposition just 13 days later.

“Now, it did work for the first half but I think Dublin copped on to what we were doing and made a few changes, where they took off a back and brought on another forward,” Martin continues.

“You’re playing against seven forwards – and they’re seven of the best forwards in the country!

“It’s hard enough to deal with six, never mind trying to deal with seven of them.

“It’s different things like that; management are learning too and we’re learning as well. We have to learn that it’s not going to work for the whole game.

“You will have situations where you’re going to have to change it around, because teams are clever, they will cop on to what you’re doing.

“So it’s a matter of us learning what changes we have to make if teams do cop on, and getting them right.

“You have to have three different plans and work through them completely throughout the year, instead of having one plan, it working for one half and then not working for the other.”

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Alan Waldron

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