Last weekend will live long in the memory of all Irish sports fans. First our grand-slam rugby heroes and then Bernard Dunne wrote their names into the history books. In doing so they gave the whole nation a timely lift. Unfortunately things didn’t run as smoothly for the football fraternity in both Westmeath and Roscommon, with both counties crashing out of their respective u21 championships, and both senior sides also being turned over.
Leinster u21 semi-final
Over the past decade there have been a few false dawns at minor and u21 level in the Lake County when various teams, though strong on paper, failed to deliver when it matters most. Last year’s minor team is one such example, but they now can be joined by this year’s u21 side.
With six or seven of the current senior side on board as well as the likes of John Connellan, Aidan Browne, James Dolan, Tommy Warburton, Andrew Whitney, and Simon Moorehead to call on, I was not alone in thinking that this side could collect silverware this year.
Unfortunately, such hopes came crashing down on Saturday in Parnell Park when an inept performance allowed Dublin progress to a Leinster final showdown with four points to spare.
When a team plays to their ability and are beaten one can have no regrets. Regrettably this was not the case last Saturday as few, if any, of our side played to their potential. If they had, then I believe a Leinster final showdown with Laois was within their grasp.
The concession of a soft goal following sloppy passing left the Midlanders trailing 1-8 to 0-5 at the break. While O’Flatharta’s side never gave up and added a further 4 points in the second period while limiting the eventual winners to 0-2, the result was never in doubt.
With our senior side struggling to get a win, our u21’s could have provided a timely boost. That they didn’t is another missed opportunity at this level. Of particular concern is the fact that a number of our more talented players failed to match the opposition. Looking to the future this is a worry. So too is the fact that we only managed one point from play in the second half, and only four from play over the hour. At a time when we desperately need to unearth a few scoring forwards to strengthen our senior side, these statistics don’t offer much cause for optimism. Hopefully many of this u21 side will have enjoy better days in the maroon and white in the coming years. For the time being though the drought continues.
Connacht u21 semi-final. (AET )
In terms of entertainment this was Ireland v Wales and Dunne v Cordoba combined. From a Roscommon point of view however, the same happy ending did not apply.
The surprise exclusion of Conor Devanney in particular, as well as Paul Gleeson and Cathal McHugh from the starting line up raised a few eyebrows amongst the saffron and blue supporters. A poor first half showing left the Rossies trailing 2-5 to 0-4 at the break.
The introduction of Devanney and Gleeson at half time certainly stirred things up for the All-Ireland minor champions of 2006. Two quickfire goals from the boot of Fintan Cregg and David O’Gara around the 40th minute and Mixer Ryan’s men were back in business. A strong finish left them protecting what at half-time seemed an improbable three point lead with the clock ticking down.
Then three minutes into injury, Mayo stunned all present with an equalizing goal to bring the game to extra time. Mayo grabbed the initiative in extra time and, try as they might, the Rossies could not draw level. A late Mayo goal was the final knockout punch which sent them through to the Connacht final.
Heartbreak for Roscommon, who expected a lot from this side three years on from capturing the All-Ireland minor title. Yet the first -half performance aside, there is plenty of reason for optimism for this group of players in the coming years.
On the face of it this looks like a comprehensive beating. Yet midway through the second-half Westmeath had the chance to draw level from the penalty spot. Unfortunately Dennis Glennon’s tame effort was wide of the mark and with it went any chance Westmeath had of taking anything from this game in Tralee. Kerry took full control thereafter and ran out easy winners.
Overall though there was cause for optimism from this Westmeath performance. Our defence was again outstanding despite the quality of the opposition. Midfield struggled to compete with Seamus Scanlon throughout but worked hard nonetheless. Up front, our by now infamous reliance on Denis Glennon to provide the scores, was again our Achilles’ heel. Glennon who kicked five points in total (3f ), was our only forward to score, yet he too was wasteful. Doran Harte also fired over a well-taken point but a total of six points was never going to be enough against the beaten All-Ireland finalists. This is Westmeath’s fifth straight defeat and maintaining Division 1 status seems increasingly unlikely.
This weekend’s NFL
Both Westmeath and Roscommon face important league games this weekend. The Lake County welcome Donegal to Cusack Park on Sunday. With two games remaining (Donegal and Dublin ) it is still mathematically possible, though highly unlikely, for Westmeath to avoid relegation.
Most Lake County supporters will be more concerned with getting some of our injured players back in action ahead of the championship, than about the result of the next two games. Dessie Dolan and Fergal Wilson, both of whom are badly missed at present are not ready to return just yet. The news is a bit better for Donie Donoghoe who might see action this weekend.
Donegal beat Tyrone last weekend but I expect a home win this time around.
Meanwhile in division three, Roscommon must travel to take on Tommy Carr’s Cavan. A win is a must if O’Donnell’s men are to remain in the hunt for promotion, following their loss to high-flying Tipperary last weekend. Cavan have been inconsistent so far this season but will provide a stern test.
Roscommon can rebound this weekend but it won’t be easy.
Westmeath hurlers denied famous victory
Westmeath’s hurlers came within touching distance of pulling off a most unlikely win over Wexford in this clash in Wexford Park last Sunday. And it would have been no fluke either as the Lake County hurled with skill and determination from start to finish.
This result, along with their previous round draw with Antrim, makes a mockery of the decision to exclude them from participating in this year’s provincial campaign.