When the final whistle sounded at the end of Westmeath’s victory over Meath on Sunday, it was greeted with such a reaction by the Lake County faithful that you would be forgiven for thinking it was 2004 again.
Such was the joy at Westmeath’s first ever Championship victory over rivals Meath that you could almost picture the late, great Páidí Ó Sé down on the Croke Park sideline celebrating with Tomás Ó Flatharta. Westmeath now have a chance to repeat the heroics of 2004 and claim their second ever Leinster title when they face Dublin, but the Lake County will be up against a Dublin team that seem hungry to avenge last season’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Donegal.
Páidí told the Westmeath players back when they won that Leinster title that they needed to be “steely tough upstairs,” and they were just that on Sunday. The Midlanders refused to give in to a physical Meath side and in spite of a relatively poor first half, they kept fighting and were rewarded for their efforts with a place in the final. Tom Cribbin’s men will be up against it when they face Dublin in the final, but based on their comeback win at the weekend, a highlight in the Championship so far, they will give their all to try and bring a second ever Leinster title back to the Lake County.
Judging on the other semi-final in Croke Park on Sunday though, they’ll have their work cut out.
Dublin were always expected to beat Kildare, but they did it in style, and in just 15 minutes. Jason Ryan’s side have endured a difficult time since Kieran McGeeney departed as manager, but after initially struggling, the Lilywhites eventually managed to put away Laois in their replayed quarter-final. One would have hoped for a similar performance on Sunday, but Dublin are a different animal to Laois and in Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly, they seem to have a certain hunger about them this year. Connolly and Brogan bagged 2-03 apiece and along with the fit-again Alan Brogan and Ciarán Kilkenny, Dublin always looked very likely to produce scores.
Kildare had started well and caused problems for Dublin early on, with Pádraig Fogarty denied a clear goal chance by some great defending by Johnny Cooper. The Lilywhites also denied Dublin space in attack, but the awareness of first Dean Rock and then Bernard Brogan, (scoring possibly the funniest goal of all time in the process) was too much for the Lilywhites to deal with and after those two early goals, Dublin managed to end Kildare’s challenge.
Dublin look sharp in attack, but until they meet a team such as Donegal, Kerry, or Mayo, it’s hard to say just how good they are. The real litmus test for this Dublin side will be when they meet a team with a very strong defensive system and an ability to convert scoring opportunities, and with no direspect to Westmeath or Kildare, their biggest challenge will probably come when they face one of the other 3 semi finalists from last year. Kildare defended well, only to be outdone by those early goals, but when Dublin come up against team with a higher quality of defence, it will be interesting to see how good their attack will be.
It’s hard to know yet just how good Dublin are from their performances thus far, but one thing is for sure; they look hungry to win a third All-Ireland since 2011 and to banish the demons of last year’s semi-final loss.