A poor showing in the first-half with the gale force wind in Athlone last Wednesday night proved Offaly’s undoing as for the fourth year in succession the county’s Under 21s exited the Leinster Championship at the first hurdle.
With no shelter from the elements for either players or spectators in the open expanses of Pairc Ciaran, Offaly were exposed by Westmeath in the opening 20 minutes as the far sharper home side opened up a 0-5 to 0-0 lead.
After going to the break three points, down Offaly improved dramatically in the second-half against the wind but they couldn’t break down the massed ranks of the Westmeath defence. In the end Pat Flanagan’s Westmeath eased away to a six point win which was well deserved on the night.
Westmeath already had a competitive game under their belt against Laois and that seemed to stand to them in the opening exchanges as they were much more precise side in their build up play despite playing into the teeth of the gale.
Offaly did not take advantage of the elements in the first-half and they struggled to move the ball forward with any effectiveness. While Offaly fielded a trio of talented inside forwards, their were outsized by their markers and Westmeath also played with a sweeper who single handedly cut off the majority of ball forward. Noel Andrew Graham was brought on to provide a physical presence but that change was not made until half-time and by that time the advantage of the wind was gone.
Westmeath were far more precise in their passing and their build up play with Conor Lynam at the centre of everything they created. The St Loman’s man finished with six points although his influence was curbed in the second-half when Cian Donohue was given the task of picking him up.
Donohue, Michael Brazil and in particular Brian Connor were key to Offaly’s improved performance after the break with the Walsh Island midfielder accounting for all but one of his side’s scores.
In the end however their efforts and the improved efforts of the entire team were for nought as Offaly’s long run without a win at the grade stretches for another year.
The wind was blowing a gale at Offaly’s backs as referee Fergal Barry threw in the ball but it was Westmeath who took control of the game with Conor Lynam opening the score after three minutes.
Offaly had plenty of possession but their decision making and passing in the opening 20 minutes was below what they are capable of and on far too many occasions they were caught in possession.
A point from a free from Ian Coffey doubled the advantage before three points in six minutes from Lynam gave Westmeath a deserved 0-5 to 0-0 lead.
Eventually, 21 minutes into the game, Offaly opened their account through Brian Connor but that was quickly cancelled out by Conor Lynam.
In the final five minutes of the half, Offaly began to find a rhythm and points from Connor from a free and one from play from Bernard Allen left them just three adrift despite being outplayed for much of the half.
Having said that however, Pat Flanagan would have been more than happy to take his side to the dressing room with a three point lead having played into the teeth of the wind.
Offaly came out with a renewed purpose at the start of the second-half and dominated the opening ten minutes as Westmeath were content to play more defensively massing players close to their own goal to make it as difficult as possible for Offaly to create scoring chances.
While they were under pressure, the tactic worked as Offaly had loads of possession but could not get close enough to the goal to score into the wind.
The opening score eventually came for Westmeath from a free from Ian Coffey. They were only denied a goal shortly after that by a fine save from Gavin Shiel who saved from Ger Egan after Westmeath had put together one of the best moves of the game.
A point from a free from Brian Connor after he was fouled returned the gap to three but that was as close as the visitors got as Westmeath gradually pulled away for a comfortable win.
Points from Coffey and James Dolan edged them five ahead and while Brian Connor pulled one back for Offaly with another free, Westmeath were back in their stride and three points without reply in the closing ten minutes removed any doubt over the result.
Offaly did round off the scoring through their man of the match Brian Connor but it was scant consolation on another night and year of disappointment for the county’s Under 21 Football team.
Westmeath: Eoin Carberry; Ben Moran, Kieran Sheridan, Kevin Maguire; Mark McCallum, Kieran Martin, James Dolan; David Keenan, Darragh Daly; Adam Corroon, Conor Lynam, Ger Egan; Ian Coffey, Callum McCormack, Tommy McDaniel. Subs: John Gilligan for Kieran Martin (22mins), Dean McNicholas for Tommy McDaniel (25mins), Shane Flanagan for Adam Corroon (51mins), John Egan for David Keenan (51mins)
Offaly: Gavin Shiel; John Ledwith, John Moloney, James McPadden; Adrian Murphy, Chris McDonald, Cian Donohue; Brian Connor, Brian Geraghty; Graham Guilfoyle, Rory Allen, Michael Brazil; Bernard Allen, Paddy Rigney, Paul McPadden. Subs: Stephen Guing for Chris McDonald (25mins), Noel Andrew Graham for Paddy Rigney (30mins), Daniel Heffernan for Bernard Allen (Blood 37mins), Daniel Heffernan for Paul McPadden (51mins), Paul O’Rourke for Rory Allen (52mins)
Referee: Fergal Barry (Kildare)