Croke Park provides the ideal backdrop for the final of the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup involving Westmeath and Carlow at Croke Park on Sunday, throw-in 1.45pm.
It has been a particularly exciting tournament packed with tight matches as Westmeath and Carlow emerged from a well contested six team group.
Westmeath posted wins over Laois, Meath, Kerry and Antrim before losing in the last round against Carlow, who required a victory to earn their own spot in the decider.
Michael Ryan’s improving Westmeath outfit had already guaranteed themselves a spot at GAA headquarters by beating Antrim in their fourth match at TEG Cusack Park.
That was a dramatic afternoon for the midlanders, who impressively dealt with a storming Antrim comeback before landing the scores that mattered in the dying minutes of a fascinating game.
It also confirmed the character and commitment within Ryan’s panel as Westmeath firmly believed that they could make an impact in this environment.
Such belief and composure has been absent previously, but Ryan, his backroom team, and a determined crop of players continue to represent Westmeath with distinction.
A national trophy is now the significant prize for the winners of the upcoming fixture between Westmeath and Carlow.
Colm Bonnar’s solid Carlow side have already raised the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A title by beating Westmeath in the showpiece of that competition.
Westmeath triumphed over Carlow in the group phase, but the midlanders didn’t perform to the best of their ability in the final enabling Colm Bonnar’s charges to prevail.
While that was a serious setback for Westmeath the response in the Joe McDonagh Cup has been notable.
Earning a surprise success over Laois ensured Westmeath gained belief and moment with subsequent triumphs over Meath, Kerry, and Antrim confirming the strdies that have been taken.
Ryan has created a strong squad with able players arriving into matches as substitutes helping to earn important victories for Westmeath.
That was especially evident in a defining tussle with Antrim, who had come roaring back after a shaky start. Under pressure Westmeath were able to cope, though, which is a huge source of optimism.
Allan Devine, Liam Varley, and Niall Mitchell all fired over crucial scores for Westmeath, who will want to demonstrate their ability on the Croke Park stage.
Tommy Doyle is an accomplished and most able full-back, while Varley, Paul Greville, and Derek McNicholas form an influential half back line.
Devine, Niall O’Brien, Ciaran Doyle, and Robbie Greville have landed key scores during this run, while Aonghs Clarrke remains an influential figure also.
Provincial heartache for Lake County
Westmeath suffered a disappointing 1-17 to 1-10 EirGrid Leinster Under 20 Championship Quarter-Final defeat against Offaly at Bord Na Mona O’Connor Park on Saturday.
Westmeath, who had impressed in the group stages of the competition, were well beaten by a solid Faithful outfit, who just had too much punch in attack for the visitors.
Despite a lively start from Westmeath the home team recovered impressively with Cian KKohnson and Cian Farrell influential in attack.
With those two key Offaly players performing impressively Westmeath were just unable to plot a way back into the contest after the interval.
By that stage Offaly had edged 0-10 to 0-5 ahead, and while Westmeath battled they never seriously threatened.
Offaly dictated the third quarter accumulating an 11 point advantage at one stage before Westmeath summoned a rally in the closing stages.
A Brian Kavanagh goal narrowed the gap, but Offaly responded with a major of their own in the closing stages when Jack Darcy rattled the Westmeath net.
That sealed Offaly’s victory and Westmeath, who were guided by the excellent Kavanagh throughout, couldn’t recover.
Despite the defeat Westmeath can take plenty of satisfaction from a decent campaign under manager Damien Gavin.
A former Westmeath underage star Gavin is well aware of the potential that exists within the county and the experience gained by this crop of players during the past month is important.
Connacht rugby date in Athlone
Connacht will host Wasps in a pre-season friendly at Dubarry Park on Saturday August 18, kick off 3pm.
It will be new Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend’s first game in charge ahead of the new campaign.
In recent years Connacht and Wasps have clashed in some interesting encounters including in the 2016/17 European Champions Cup.
Connacht defeated Wasps 20-18 in that campaign at the Sportsground a week after the English outfit had triumphed at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.