Westmeath looking to cause an upset against Offaly

Westmeath manager, Michael Ryan. Photo: Piaras O’Midheach/Sportsfile

Westmeath manager, Michael Ryan. Photo: Piaras O’Midheach/Sportsfile

Having staged a dramatic late recovery mission in the Leinster SHC Round Robin series, Westmeath will be hoping to stage a quarter-final surprise when Offaly visit TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar, on Saturday evening.

Michael Ryan’s team suffered two early defeats in the championship against Laois and Kerry, but bounced back well to beat Meath. That win over the Royals was enough to send Westmeath into the next stage where a clash against Offaly awaits.

A year ago, Westmeath did record a famous provincial success over Offaly, with Eoin Price and Niall O’Brien influential. Offaly responded after the loss to advance from the group, but Westmeath celebrated a hugely important win.

During this campaign, though, Westmeath have only shown glimpses of their ability with the triumph over Meath an encouraging afternoon.

Alan Devine struck nine points, while Killian Doyle’s 1-3 haul carried huge importance for Ryan’s charges.

Aonghus Clarke and Cormac Boyle provide experience, while the excellent form of full back Tommy Doyle is another source of optimism.

Doyle continues to produce gutsy displays for Westmeath, who will be aware of the threat Offaly will carry in this fixture.

Offaly avoided an Allianz Hurling League Division 1B relegation play-off following a 1-21 to 2-16 win over Kerry on March 26.

Stephen Quirke’s goal proved to be the vital score in that game before Offaly were soundly beaten by Tipperary in the knockout stages.

Shane Dooley was in prolific scoring form throughout the spring registering 2-8 in the loss against Tipperary.

Westmeath will need to be tight defensively, ensuring Dooley is not afforded too many opportunities to convert frees in attack.

Kevin Ryan is eager to develop the Offaly panel and they improved significantly following a worrying start to the league.

Westmeath’s form throughout the year has been mixed, but the Meath result was a huge boost, especially given the fact that it guaranteed the Midlanders two more championship matches.

Ultimately, that is what is needed to develop further according to Michael Ryan, who has frequently spoken about the 10 summer fixtures Westmeath participated in during 2015 and 2016.

Throughout the round robin series, Westmeath fought until the bitter end in all three tussles which bodes well.

A third quarter lapse in concentration at O’Moore Park allowed Laois to seize control, but Westmeath came thundering back in the closing stages.

Westmeath’s resilience was nearly rewarded with a positive result, but Laois, who face Wexford on Sunday, had sufficient character to hold on.

Kerry produced a gritty display to prevail in Mullingar, ensuring Westmeath left that encounter nursing plenty of regrets, but they delivered when it truly counted.

Tommy Doyle was immense, while Paul Greville anchored the Westmeath defence from centre-back in excellent fashion.

Clarke, Killian Doyle, Robbie Greville, and Devine, who was sharp from frees, all contributed handsomely for Westmeath, who now face a step up in class against Offaly.

Reaching a provincial semi-final is an attractive prize for the winners and Westmeath, who had several panel members involved in Wednesday’s Bord Gais Energy Leinster U21 Championship tie with Meath, are quietly optimistic.

It is a challenge Michael Ryan’s outfit will embrace, though, and an interesting Saturday evening is anticipated.

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