Chris Bennett (above) put in a “man of the match” performance and registered 2-6 as Dublin beat Westmeath by 2-17 to 1-14 in the sunshine at Parnell Park tonight.
Quarter-final victors over Kilkenny, the Lake County never took a step back tonight but brilliant goals from Man of the Match Bennett in the 39th and 48th minutes saw the Dubs add to their win over Wexford to seal a place in the provincial final on July 6th, where opposition will be provided by either Carlow or Offaly, who meet next week.
At the end of an evenly-contested first half, Dublin led by a single point, 0-10 to 1-6. They had been five adrift when Ciaran Doyle found their net at the end of the first quarter and still trailed by four approaching the 20-minute mark. However, they reeled off five unanswered points in the last ten minutes of the half, with AJ Murphy and Bennett each slotting three first-half points.
Sean O’Riain had the winners ahead with a point from close range inside the opening minute and the hosts dominated the early exchanges only for Niall Mitchell to equalise from an exquisite sideline cut from the right side in the fifth minute.
AJ Murphy edged the Metropolitans back in front; after hesitating, the umpire gingerly waved his effort wide but the referee overruled him. Points from Jack Galvin, Darragh Clinton (free) and full forward Ciaran Doyle had the Lake men ahead by four points to two after ten minutes.
Joe Fortune’s charges rallied but were unfortunate when O’Riain’s effort rebounded off the crossbar. It was an instant six-point swing when, at the other end, corner back Eoghan O’Donnell fumbled a high delivery and Doyle was on hand to toe-poke the sliothar to the net in the 14th minute – 1-4 to 0-2.
Colm O’Neill – a late addition to the starting XV, Bennett (free) and Murphy reduced the gap to two but Clinton smashed over a free from the middle of the pitch and Mitchell swept over a terrific score from play as the midlanders moved 1-6 to 0-5 ahead. Bennett’s effort for the Dubs left three between the teams with ten minutes left in the first half.
With a glimpse of goal, Cian Boland was happy enough to take his point and wing back Paul O’Dea’s precise finish had the margin back to the minimum on 25 minutes. O’Riain was almost in for a Dublin goal and was preparing to pull the trigger when Westmeath No.3 Conor Shaw brilliantly dispossessed him, but the visitors missed a couple of frees and Murphy tied the scores up three minutes from the break before Bennett restored the winners’ lead 30 seconds later with a super score from the left corner.
Westmeath were unfortunate when a delightful move culminated in a shot off the woodwork from distance in first-half stoppage time and they went in at the interval trailing by just one after a highly entertaining opening period.
Doyle’s free had the sides level again within four minutes of the restart and the No.14 traded frees with Bennett, with Warren Casserly becoming the second Westmeath man to hit a post in between. In the 39th minute, Bennett caught the Lake defence unawares with a sublime, disguised strike to the top left corner of their net – 1-11 to 1-8. Back came Adrian Moran’s men with another Doyle free only for the outstanding Bennett to arrow over a superb free from the right in response, bringing his haul for the night to 1-5.
Gladiatorial midfielder Casserly fired over a terrific retort and Doyle (free) cancelled out a Boland effort before Bennett nonchalantly stroked his second major to the bottom left corner of the net – an exceptional finish to leave five points between the teams with 48 minutes played, 2-13 to 1-11.
Sean Treacy boomed over a free after Bennett was fouled by Doyle, who replied, as did Clinton, to keep the visitors still in contention with eight minutes remaining. O’Riain and Bennett (free) eased the Metropolitans towards the winning line and Boland had the last say as the Dubs survived a stern examination to keep their season alive.
SCORERS – Dublin: C Bennett 2-6 (0-5f), AJ Murphy, C Boland 0-3 each, S O Riain 0-2, C O’Neill, P O’Dea, S Treacy (0-1f) 0-1 each.
Westmeath: C Doyle 1-7 (0-5f), D Clinton 0-3 (0-2f) N Mitchel 0-2 (0-1 sideline), J Galvin, W Casserly 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: J Treacy; E O’Donnell, J Madden, C Hendricken; J Bellew, C MacGabhann, P O’Dea; M McCallion, J Malone; E McHugh, AJ Murphy, S Treacy; C O’Neill, S O Riain, C Bennett. Subs: C Boland for McHugh (20), R McBride for McCallion (38), F O Riain Broin for O’Dea (42), S Gray for Murphy (47), B Bolger for Bellew (55).
WESTMEATH: S Maher; A Cox, C Shaw, M Heeney; J Rabbitte, L Varley, R Gillen; W Casserly, K Doyle; D Egerton, L Cassidy, N Mitchell; J Galvin, C Doyle, D Clinton. Subs: P Scally for Cassidy (ht), D Giles for Cox (43).
REF: B Redmond (Wexford).