GERRY BUCKLEY looks forward to this Sunday's clash between Westmeath and Dublin in Division 1 of the Allianz FL.
In June 2004, seven weeks before Westmeath landed a long-sought Holy Grail of the newly-named Delaney Cup, while also attempting an alliterative headline, I used, “Every chance of troublin’ Dublin”, ahead of Páidí O Sé’s charges facing Tommy Lyons’ troops in the Leinster SFC quarter-final.
Sadly, such optimism is hard to muster close on a decade later as 1995 All-Ireland-winning colleagues, Paul Bealin and Jim Gavin get set to wear the maroon and sky blue bainisteoir bibs respectively in next Sunday's Allianz Football League Division 1 clash in Cusack Park (2pm).
Not only did Westmeath trouble Dublin that day in Croke Park, but they deservedly won by two points – who could ever forget Joe Fallon and Paul Conway pouncing for a brace of fantastic winning points?
The fortunes of the respective counties have changed very dramatically in the intervening ten years, with Westmeath never really threatening to win a second provincial crown (albeit if Martin Flanagan was not injured in 2008, who knows?). On the other hand, Dublin have been winning them for the fun of it (every single one, in fact, barring Meath’s infamous 'defeat’ of Louth in the 2010 final), while they threw in two All-Irelands for good measure (2011 and 2013).
Accordingly, reigning league and Sam Maguire Cup champions, Dublin will be unbackable favourites to dispose of the Lake County challenge next weekend, while talk of even “troublin’ Dublin” seems far-fetched. However, home advantage will surely help the maroon and whites (assuming even a modicum of the county's fair-weather fans turn up).
Bealin has a tricky job selecting the starting team to play his native county. He will be tempted to stick with the newcomers who did reasonably well in Páirc Uí Rinn, but torn between that course of action and resorting to recalling some high profile players like Kieran Gavin, Des Dolan and Denis Glennon, all three of whom came on as replacements in Cork – albeit none making any significant impact.
A glance at previous league meetings will bring back mixed memories for diehard Lake County Gaels. Even young supporters will have very contrasting memories of the last two NFL meetings – a marvellous Division 2 final win for Tomás O Flatharta’s charges in Páirc Tailteann in 2008, less than 12 months before Pat Gilroy’s metropolitans handed out a 27-point Division 1 trouncing in Donnycarney. Some of the players from both sides in those games are still around and will be in action next Sunday (see the lists below).
For many of us older folk, memories may flash back to an infamous divisional play-off in Páirc Tailteann all of 45 years ago. Dublin were slap bang in the middle of a hiatus with their 16th and 17th All-Ireland titles coming in 1963 and 1974 (totally unexpectedly).
Westmeath’s two-point win was deserved against a metropolitan side containing the likes of Paddy Cullen, Bill Casey, Mickey Whelan and Des Foley. The latter’s larger-than-life brother Lar also made an unexpected appearance on the day, as a long-time Westmeath fan will recall – with no little pain!
The image of the multi-talented Pat Bradley leaving the pitch jersey-less after being sent off (no red cards those days) is one I will bring to the grave with me. Indeed, a very good Westmeath side (even short the services of the suspended Bradley) went on to push Kerry very close in the next game, a league semi-final proper in Croke Park.
Overall, next Sunday’s opponents have met on 17 previous occasions in the league. Unsurprisingly, the Dubs have won 13 times, with Westmeath victorious in the other four matches.
Westmeath v Dublin - last two league meetings
Westmeath 0-15 Dublin 0-10
Westmeath: Gary Connaughton, Frank Boyle, Kieran Gavin, John Keane, Michael Ennis (0-1), Derek Heavin, Damien Healy, Martin Flanagan (0-2), Donal O’Donoghue, Fergal Wilson (0-4), John Smyth (0-1), Doron Harte, Alan Mangan (0-2), Denis Glennon (0-2), Dermot Bannon (0-3). Sub: Dessie Dolan (for Mangan).
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton, David Henry, Barry Cahill, Paul Casey, Collie Moran, Bryan Cullen (0-1), Ger Brennan, Darren Magee, Shane Ryan, Kevin Bonner (0-1), Mark Vaughan (0-2), Brendan McManamon (0-1), Jason Sherlock (0-2), Conal Keaney (0-1), John O’Brien (0-2). Subs: Ray Cosgrove (for Sherlock), Tiernan Diamond (for Cosgrove), Eoghan O’Gara (for McManamon), Derek Murray (for Bonner).
12/4/2009, Parnell Park,
Dublin 5-22 Westmeath 0-10
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton, David Henry, Denis Bastic, Alan Hubbard, Paul Griffin, Ger Brennan (0-1), Barry Cahill (0-2), Ciaran Whelan (1-0), Darren Magee (1-0), Alan Brogan (0-4), Kevin Bonner, Paul Flynn (1-0), Conal Keaney (1-7), Mark Davoren (0-2), Blaine Kelly (0-6). Subs: Pat Burke (1-0) (for Bonner), Bryan Cullen (for Griffin), Ross McConnell (for Davoren), Tomás Quinn (for Kelly), Mark Vaughan (for Keaney).
Westmeath: Cathal Mullin, Frank Boyle, Kieran Gavin, John Keane, Alan Claffey, Derek Heavin, Doron Harte, Niall Kilcoyne (0-1), David Duffy, Michael Ennis, Conradh Reilly, John Smyth, Conor Lynam, Denis Glennon (0-6), Keith Scally (0-1). Subs: Tommy McDaniel (0-1) (for Gavin), Willie Murtagh (for Harte), Paul Bannon (0-1) (for Ennis), David Kilmartin (for Kilcoyne), Anthony Clinton (for Scally), Paul Kelly (for Lynam).