Westmeath’s senior footballers have learned a lot from their last two Leinster SFC final meetings with Dublin and will be all the better for it this Sunday, insists manager Tom Cribbin.
With Lake County outfits having suffered 27, 16, 13 and 15-point defeats at the hands of the metropolitans in Jones Road fixtures in 2009, 2003, 2015 and 2016 respectively (the last two under Cribbin’s tutelage in Delaney Cup deciders), it is patently obvious why Jim Gavin’s Dublin side are unbackable favourites for this Sunday’s semi-final in Croke Park (4pm).
However, Cribbin was very much looking forward to the match when he spoke soon after last Saturday’s comfortable quarter-final replay win against Offaly.
He identified the undoubted positives from participating in the last two Leinster finals, opining: “We have improved as a team from playing Dublin twice in a row. The lads love playing in big games now and sure who wouldn’t? That’s what it’s all about – playing big matches in the summer. Croke Park is the place you want to play in.
“The lads were there already this year for a league final (defeating Wexford), and we had a couple of matches up there last year (losing to Dublin and Mayo). It’s great to be able to get up there and play these big matches.
“Dublin won the All-Ireland title both years and our lads did pretty well against them for X amount of time. We need to see can we extend that X amount of time, and even do a little bit better.”
The Kildare man was at pains to point out that his sole focus up to Saturday last had been on getting past Offaly. He stated: “To be honest, I didn’t even look at Dublin yet. The day that you underestimate the team that you are playing, or look two steps ahead, is when you will get caught. You have to stay really focused on who you are playing.
“Tonight and tomorrow is when we will start looking at the Dubs. Dublin will be flying, the same as they always are every time they go out.
“I would have liked a couple of weeks’ break to get over our knocks. The lads used up some energy levels today. Without a shadow of a doubt, a few more days’ rest would have been good, but we’ll recover and we’ll be ok for next Sunday week.”
And the manager’s target? “I have belief that we are going to play at a different level this year and that we can cause them problems. But Dublin are Dublin, and I am not going to be stupid and say that we are going to beat a team that is going for three All-Irelands in a row. They have an exceptional panel and they have won underage All-Irelands as well, but we’ll do our absolute utmost next Sunday.
“I haven’t gone into our likely tactics yet as everything was totally focused on today. And I am being 100 per cent honest about that.”