By Paul O’Donovan
For the second successive year Westmeath senior footballers have been relegated and now find themselves in Division 3 of the National Football League following this seven-point defeat to Roscommon in Cusack Park, last Sunday afternoon.
This was a courageous and battling performance by Westmeath but ultimately it wasn’t enough to save them from defeat, their fourth defeat in a row, and also relegation to the third tier. Their victors meanwhile, Roscommon, are going in the opposite direction. This win sends Roscommon, who were in Division 3 two years ago into Division One for next year. Added to that they captured the Connacht Under 21 title at the weekend, so it is clear to see Johnny Evans’ team are a team on the rise, while Tom Cribbin’s Westmeath side are on the slide.
After the game Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin questioned the commitment and effort of one or two of his players saying, “Most of our players gave everything. There are a few players not performing for us. You need your big players to perform if you are going to deliver. A few of our leaders lay down and some of the players have serious questions to answer over the next few weeks, ‘cause we may have to work ahead without these players”.
Strong comments indeed from the Westmeath manager who didn’t name any individuals whom he felt had underperformed, but clearly Cribbin wants to move forward only with those players who are willing to give one hundred per cent for the Westmeath jersey on the pitch.
Roscommon had kicked ten first half wides but still managed to lead by 0-6 to 0-5 at half time. Three minutes after the break the excellent Conor Daly finished to the net for the first Roscommon goal and when Senan Kilbride slotted home Roscommon’s second goal, following another great move in the 61st minute, Westmeath were on their way to Division 3.
Killian Daly, sub Shane Dempsey, Kieran Martin and Ger Egan were just a few of those players who impressed for a disappointing Westmeath side, but as Roscommon celebrated a great win and promotion, Westmeath supporters were left wondering just where their team will go from here, and how are they going to perform in the first round of the championship against Louth in May.
SLOW PEDESTRIAN START
Tom Cribbin made a number of changes to his side with Darren Quinn returning in goals, and John Stapleton starting at midfield, while Callum McCormack was certainly a loss in attack.
This game was a real slow burner and the first half only came to life in the final ten minutes, with just one point being scored in the opening 12 minutes.
That solitary point, was scored by Roscommon’s Donie Smith, in the fourth minute, a fine kick from the left wing from 25 metres.
A talking point of the first half was the amount of wides Roscommon kicked – a total of ten in the first half – some of them very poor.
The visitors eventually found their shooting boots by the 12th minute as they added three more points in the space of as many minutes. Conor Daly, Ciaran Murtagh and Fintan Kelly supplied the points for Johnny Evans side, who had suddenly opened up a four point lead.
Westmeath finally opened their account in the 16th minute. Roscommon’s Sean McDermott failed to hold a delivery by Ray Connellan and John Heslin collected the loose ball 30 metres out to score a good point.
It took Westmeath just three more minutes to get their second score, Ger Egan cutting inside to point, after a good cross field pass by John Stapleton.
By this stage Roscommon had kicked seven wides and Senan Kilbride had almost scored a goal, but his flicked effort inside the square dropped just wide of the post.
Roscommon had dominated the opening 25 minutes but just led by one point after sub Shane Dempsey pointed, four minutes after replacing a disappointed Stapleton.
Indeed Dempsey was unfortunate not to get a second point a minute later, but his effort struck the post and Roscommon launched a quick counter attack with Ciaran Murtagh pointing, to restore their two-point lead, 0-5 to 0-3.
The Westmeath build up was far too slow and at times went needlessly backwards, and a slicker, sharper Roscommon side increased their lead when Ciaran Murtagh converted a free, after silly Westmeath dissent had cost the home side vital yards.
Westmeath finished the half the stronger and a converted John Heslin free, and then a very good move in injury time, involving Ger Egan, Ray Connellan and David Lynch resulted in another point for Shane Dempsey.
So, at the end of a half that Roscommon dominated, Westmeath trailed by just one, 0-5 to 0-6.
Denis Glennon was introduced for the second half in place of the hard working John Connellan, but it took Roscommon just 13 seconds to get their first point of the second half, Cathal Shine passing to Diarmuid Murtagh who made it 0-7 to 0-5.
John Heslin reduced the deficit when converting a close-range free, after the busy and industrious Kieran Martin was fouled, but then Roscommon struck with a sucker punch.
Senan Kilbride started the move and found Enda Smith who in turn passed to Conor Daly. Daly’s first effort was blocked but he collected the loose ball to fire to the net from eight metres for the opening goal of the game.
Once again Westmeath responded when John Heslin converted a free, this time after the St Loman’s man was fouled, but an injury to Kieran Martin and a poor wide by Shane Dempsey didn’t help Westmeath’s cause. And when Ronan Foley lost possession Roscommon’s Diarmuid Murtagh capitalised to point, leaving Roscommon four ahead, 1-8 to 0-7, after 46 minutes.
Then on 51 minutes a controversial moment arrived. Shane Dempsey exchanged passes with Paddy Holloway before being fouled on the edge of the square. Initially referee Fergal Kelly signalled a penalty, but then after consulting with his umpire he gave Westmeath a free, which John Heslin converted to leave three between the sides.
With promotion and relegation at stake for both sides exchanges then became heated and a number of yellow cards were dished out, but when play resumed John Egan set up Ronan Foley for a rare point for the Kinnegad man.
The gap was down to two and it remained at two after Diarmuid Murtagh and John Heslin successfully traded frees.
But once again Roscommon struck the big blow when it counted most, grabbing their second goal on 61 minutes.
This time Ultan Harney, Conor Daly and Senan Kilbride were all involved before Kilbride finished to the net to the delight of the large travelling Roscommon faithful as their side now led by 2-9 to 0-10.
A fisted point by Denis Glennon, when there was a possible goal on, gave Westmeath hope of a revival, but it was Roscommon who finished much the stronger scoring the next four points in a row.
Kevin Higgins, Diarmuid Murtagh, Cathal Cregg and Colin Compton from a free, all pointed to leave Roscommon ahead by eight points.
Not even five minutes of injury time or the sending off of Roscommon’s Sean McDermott for a straight red card offence could help Westmeath at this stage.
A John Heslin free from a point late on proved to be Westmeath’s final score, as Roscommon celebrated promotion to Division One and Westmeath faced into the bitter disappointment of playing Division 3 football next year.
Roscommon: Conor Daly 1-1, Diarmuid Murtagh 0-4 (0-1 free), Senan Kilbride 1-0, Ciaran Murtagh 0-3 (0-2 frees), Donie Smith 0-1, Fintan Kelly 0-1, Kevin Higgins 0-1, Colin Compton 0-1 free, Cathal Cregg 0-1.