Following two consecutive Allianz Football League relegations, Kieran Martin is adamant that Westmeath can launch a successful promotion bid from Division Four in 2017.
Speaking at last week’s Bord na Mona O’Byrne Cup launch, Martin admitted that Tom Cribbin’s team are focused ahead of their return to competitive action in the new year.
Dropping from Division Three was a significant blow, but there were mitigating circumstances according to Martin: “The fact that some club players went far enough in the Club Championship, they didn’t come back until late January, February maybe; the likes of the Loman’s lads, Athlone last year was the same, and that’s the guts of 10 to 12 players for our panel,” he said.
“It was kind of disjointed at the start and we were late starting. But look, we’re going to have a push this year. Division Four – we need to get out of it if we do want to progress.”
Youngsters will be afforded a chance to shine, Martin reckons: “The way I see it, it’s a great opportunity for us to play new lads on the panel – U21 players who have just broken through and need the game experience, because they’re not getting it either,’ he said. “We had a few lads last year who probably didn’t play one league game and they were brought on in championship games; it’s not a great way to introduce lads.
“So, the fact is we might get the opportunity to play some of those lads; get them the game experience so they know what level they have to get to. Because we have great talent at underage, from the U21 scene, that have broken through. We need to give them an opportunity to get games. You don’t want them sitting on the bench the whole year. We’re going to push hard to get out of Division Four. If we do, we do, but it’s not the end of the world.”
During the past two Leinster Championships Westmeath have impressed despite their league struggles: “At the end of the day it’s all about championship,” Martin admits. “You do want to get a basis right in the league. If you get good performances in the league and the results don’t go your way, it doesn’t matter – it’s all about the performance. You want to get that performance right for championship. That’s where it matters.
“Going down two divisions in two years with two Leinster finals, it shows that we’re getting something right for championship. So we just have to try and prepare a bit better for the league. This year it’s probably a bit better because we do have lads coming in that bit earlier – the likes of Loman’s, and we’ll have more of the Rosemount lads coming in because they lost the Leinster (intermediate ) final.
“So it’s about getting started at the right time and lads getting fit at the right time. We need everyone coming in at the same level for January and getting ready to go from there.”
Last year Westmeath competed well for spells against Dublin and Mayo, the two teams that contested a gripping All-Ireland Final draw and replay: “It’s hard for a team to play well for a whole 70 minutes, but we always seem to do it for either one half or the other,” Martin acknowledges. “That’s what we’re going to work on; see what went wrong in the halves that we didn’t play well in, and see what we did right in the halves where we did play well.
“You have to take the positives out of it. I think the second half against Mayo was probably the best football we played all year. We just went for it. We had to. And I think it’s a good way to go at teams too, because they’re not expecting it either. We were a couple of points down against Kildare and we went for it, and within 10-15 minutes we were a couple of points up.
“So, I think the management are looking at that as well, instead of trying to hold teams off. With Dublin it’s a different situation. You have to try and work something. Now, it did work for the first half but I think Dublin copped on to what we were doing and made a few changes, where they took off a back and brought on another forward. You’re playing against seven forwards, and they’re seven of the best forwards in the country. It’s hard enough to deal with six, never mind trying to deal with seven of them. It’s different things like that.
“Management are learning and we’re learning as well. We have to learn that it’s not going to work for the whole game. You will have situations where you’re going to have to change it around, because teams are clever, they will cop on to what you’re doing. So, it’s a matter of us learning what changes we have to make if teams do cop on, and getting them right.”