Muireann Scally (left) and Dearbhail McLoughlin of Westmeath up against Aisling Gannon of Dublin in today’s Leinster senior camogie semi-final in Abbotstown. Photo: Martina McGilloway

Camogie: O’Neill’s early goal gives Dublin the edge over Westmeath

Leinster senior camogie championship semi-final: Dublin 1-15, Westmeath 0-4

After receiving a bye in the first round, Westmeath’s Leinster senior camogie championship campaign came to an end at the GAA’s National Games Development Centre earlier this afternoon, with Dublin running out comfortable winners on the well-appointed main pitch at Abbotstown.

Before the game, it was revealed that Tipperary native Diarmuid Cahill has taken over management duties for the Lake County and will lead them into their forthcoming All-Ireland intermediate campaign, which kicks off on the weekend of May 28/29. Saturday’s outing was very much a water-tester for Cahill as he gets to know his charges before the All-Ireland series.

Dublin were well in control of this game from after a first quarter in which Westmeath were highly competitive. However, a tenth minute goal from full forward Aisling O’Neill set the Metropolitans on their way. Over the course of the hour, Westmeath scored only a point from play, and the total return of just four points (including three frees from Megan Dowdall) was disappointing.

But this is very much a Westmeath team in transition, and with Cahill possessing clear ideas about the style of play he wants to implement, Dublin’s first string might encounter a sterner Lake County challenge in 2023, especially if Westmeath mount a successful All-Ireland intermediate campaign this summer.

New Westmeath senior camogie manager, Diarmuid Cahill. Photo: Martina McGilloway

The Maroons started this Leinster semi-final in fine fettle. Clonkill’s Megan Dowdall put them two up with a brace of well-taken frees, and Westmeath had the better of the exchanges before Aisling O’Neill pulled one back for the Dubs from a free (eight minutes). Dublin midfielder Emma Flanagan had missed an earlier free for the hosts.

The capital side equalised after 10 minutes after centre forward Niamh Gannon cut through the Westmeath defence and slotted over. Seconds later, the only goal of the game arrived when Gannon dropped a long ball into the Dublin full forward line. The sliothar fell to O’Neill, who drove it low and powerfully to the net to win the Metropolitans a foothold they would never relinquish.

Aisling Gannon pointed to make it 1-3 to 0-2 to Dublin, and moments later, Westmeath had a chance to reduce the arrears when Megan Dowdall was fouled en route to goal, after some superb ball-winning from Emma Broughan. However, Dowdall sliced the resultant free just wide.

Dublin had their fair share of misses in the first half, but could afford that luxury as they continued to do the basics well. Aisling Gannon added her second score for the girls in sky blue, before a brace from Niamh Gannon put them 1-6 to 0-2 clear – the second coming on the rebound, after Westmeath netminder Fiona Keating had batted out a puck from the former Gannon.

On 26 minutes, Cullion’s Emma Broughan hit Westmeath’s first and only point from play, raising their first flag since the fourth minute. However, Dublin closed out the half on top with two more points from Aisling O’Neill (one from play) to lead 1-7 to 0-3 at the break.

The second half was largely one-way traffic, with Dublin going on to outscore the Maroons 0-8 to 0-1 in that period, and both sides giving runs to substitutes. In truth, while Dublin weren’t spectacular in the second moiety, Westmeath offered limited resistance.

The Westmeath senior camogie team. Back row, from left: Anna Weir, Emma Broughan, Méadbh Scally, Louise O’Connor, Denise McGrath, Maria Kelly, Fiona Keating, Róisín Scally, Anya Boyle, Muireann Scally. Front row, from left: Megan Dowdall, Sandra McGrath, Hannah Core, Sheila McGrath, Aoife O’Malley, Emily McCabe, Laura Doherty, Áine Newman, Dearbhail McLoughlin. Photo: Martina McGilloway.

Ali Twomey opened the second half scoring for the Dubs on 32 minutes, before Aisling O’Neill increased her tally to 1-4 with a fine score from the right corner.

Dublin manager Adrian O’Sullivan then introduced Aisling Maher, who was a classy addition to the Metropolitan attack. Maher made it 1-10 to 0-3 with her first touch of the game.

Aisling Gannon extended the Dublin lead with her second point, before Maher superbly dodged her marker to fire her second, putting 12 points between the sides. As substitutes entered the fray en masse, Dublin almost had a second goal on 47 minutes, with Maher’s pass setting up Ali Twomey for a close-range finish. Westmeath ‘keeper Fiona Keating managed to get her body in the way, and Twomey had to settle for a point.

It wasn’t until the 54th minute that Westmeath opened their second half account, Megan Dowdall converting a free after being hauled down unceremoniously by two Dublin defenders.

But Maher and Aisling Gannon had the final say for the Dubs with late scores, the former’s run and strike among the pick of the second half bunch.

Dowdall had a last-gasp chance to snatch a goal for the Maroons, but after a mazy run she was dispossessed by a Dublin hurl at the crucial moment.

The Dubs now head for a Leinster senior final against Kilkenny, while for Westmeath, preparations begin for their All-Ireland intermediate championship opener against Dublin’s second string – a tie made all the more intriguing by the fact that the Lake County’s opponents will be managed by Raharney’s Jimmy Greville.

Scorers – Dublin: A O’Neill 1-4 (0-2f), N Gannon, A Gannon and A Maher 0-3 each, A Twomey 0-2. Westmeath: M Dowdall 0-3f, E Broughan 0-1.

Dublin: Éabha Mooney; Christine Shanahan, Eve O’Brien, Muireann Kelleher; Róisín Baker, Hannah Hegarty, Emma O’Byrne; Emma Flanagan, Gaby Couch; Elyse Jamieson-Murphy, Niamh Gannon, Jody Couch; Ali Twomey, Aisling O’Neill, Aisling Gannon. Subs used: Aisling Maher for Jamieson-Murphy (38), Claire Gannon for Flanagan (40), Leah Butler for Kelleher (44), Clíodhna Nicoletti for J Couch (47), Orla Gray for Hegarty (48).

Westmeath: Fiona Keating; Dearbhail McLoughlin, Méadbh Scally, Emily McCabe; Laura Doherty, Muireann Scally, Sandra McGrath; Áine Newman, Aoife O’Malley; Sheila McGrath, Megan Dowdall, Maria Kelly; Emma Broughan, Denise McGrath, Hannah Core. Subs used: Louise O’Connor for Core (27), Róisín Scally for Méadbh Scally (45), Anya Boyle for Broughan (48), Core for Sandra McGrath (55), Anna Weir for Keating (60).

Ref: Liz Dempsey (Kilkenny).