The sixteenth man was key in settling today's Allianz NFL Division 1 fixture between Dublin and Westmeath at a resplendent Cusack Park.
In Dublin's case, it was super-sub Paul Hudson, who kicked four sublime points in a second half cameo to seal a 0-14 to 1-7 win for the visitors. For Westmeath, it was their supporters, who – not for the first time in the recent past – were for the most part marked absent in Mullingar.
Of the 6,500 fans who turned out, scarcely a fifth were clad in maroon. They were outnumbered and outshouted by a loyal Dub vanguard who – turning the canal end of Cusack Park into a miniature Hill 16 – pushed the under par All-Ireland champions over the line.
What's galling is that Dublin were far from impressive, and there for the taking. Though they led 0-6 to 0-3 at half time (with Ciaran Reddin contributing two decent points), they struggled against the breeze and kicked ten wides.
Even after the resumption, they failed to deliver an expected rout, and a 49th minute goal from Dessie Dolan silenced the Metropolitan support.
There were several positives for Westmeath. Steven Gilmore, Kieran Gavin and Kevin Maguire marshalled the full back line admirably, while John Egan – who started at centre half forward – tracked back with great effect. Athlone's Ray Connellan meanwhile, when called upon, put in a solid shift at the centre of the park.
A deserving candidate for man of the match was goalkeeper Darren Quinn, without whose occasional heroics Westmeath could have easily lost by double figures.
Tyrrellspass clubman Quinn prevented two Dublin points over the course of the game, and denied certain goals for All-Stars Michael Darragh Macauley and Paul Flynn within the first seven minutes of the second half.
There was, however, a disconnect when it came to turning solid defence into successful offence. That was the knife on which Westmeath fell, with John Heslin – passed fit at the last minute – often left on his own up front, whenever Westmeath employed the blanket defence.
Dolan's introduction (48) briefly rejuvenated the Lake County attack, and after a neat one-two move between Ger Egan and Heslin, the Garrycastle veteran netted to level matters (0-7 to 1-4).
Denis Glennon's finest moment of the game came three minutes later, when he advanced on the Dublin defence like a man possessed, lobbed in a dangerous high ball, allowing Heslin to out-jump Stephen Cluxton and nudge Westmeath a point ahead.
It's at moments like this you hope to get the crowd behind you and push onwards. But Dublin won that off-the-field battle, and they duly recaptured the momentum on the pitch.
Enter Paul Hudson – a 51st minute sub for Kevin McManamon – who kicked four points (three from play) between then and the final whistle, as Jim Gavin's men sauntered to an unconvincing win.
Cluxton, Ciaran Kilkenny (frees) and Davy Byrne all found their range, while Westmeath's only two other scores – a brace of John Heslin frees – didn't materialise until the dying minutes.
Westmeath's second NFL defeat is followed by a three-week break and an away trip to Derry on March 2.
Hopefully when Mayo come town for the next Cusack Park outing, the home support will stand up and be counted.
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton (0-3, 2 '45', 1f); Philip McMahon, Michael Fitzsimmons, Darragh Nelson; Eric Lowndes, Cian O'Sullivan, Jonny Cooper; Michael Darragh Macauley, Shane Carthy; Paul Flynn, Ciaran Kilkenny (0-3f), Ciaran Reddin (0-2); Paul Mannion, Eoghan O'Gara, Kevin McManamon (0-1). Subs used: Paul Hudson (0-4, 1f) for McManamon (51), Kevin O'Brien for Nelson (51), Davy Byrne (0-1) for O'Gara (58), Daniel Watson for Mannion (62), Kevin Nolan for Cooper (67).
Westmeath: Darren Quinn; Steven Gilmore, Kieran Gavin, Kevin Maguire; Jamie Gonoud, John Gilligan, James Dolan; David Duffy, Denis Corroon; Paul Sharry, John Egan, Ger Egan; Kieran Martin (0-1), Denis Glennon, John Heslin (0-5, 3f). Subs used: Ray Connellan (0-1) for Corroon (25), Des Dolan (1-0) for Martin (48), Callum McCormack for Gonoud (63), Damien Dolan for Gilmore (inj., 68), David McCormack for Glennon (70 + 2).
Ref: David Gough (Meath).