As he prepares to grace the sideline as Athlone senior football manager for his inaugural Westmeath SFC occasion, Liam McHale, expects his playing charges to perform to a high level against reigning Flanagan Cup holders, Garrycastle, on Sunday evening, a local derby fixture to take place in Tubberclair (throw-in, 5pm ).
The eagerly anticipated Group 1 round robin fixture affords Athlone the opportunity to avenge recent senior championship defeats to their closest rivals, a win which would do much for confidence as the county’s most successful club side aim to regain the Flanagan Cup for the first time since 1998.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, the former All-Star spoke positively pertaining to the squad’s attitude and application in recent weeks as training intensity increased and the opening championship fixture came into view.
“This past three to four weeks has been very rewarding from a training perspective. We have large numbers in attendance, all the players are fully focussed and looking forward to the start of the championship on Sunday.
“I cannot fault the desire and application of the players during each session. There is a healthy determination within the group and a desire to be successful.
“While competitive action has been at a premium, I was more than pleased with the manner in which the team conducted their business against Maryland in our league game recently, in particular, during the first half period when they dominated proceedings,” Liam asserted.
The former Mayo senior footballer is of the view that the revised format championship will suit the more established club teams - Garrycastle, St Lomans, Mullingar Shamrocks - but is certain that Athlone can have a positive impact on playing proceedings as they progress.
“From what I have witnessed during our training sessions, there is no reason why we cannot transfer such positivity into a playing environment. When you have such large numbers in regular training attendance, it affords you the opportunity to work on certain drills and set plays which have potential to arise during championship fare.
“We are trying to develop a pattern of play where the ball is constantly moving, ensuring full on field player participation. Players should enjoy the playing experience and not feel under immense pressure when in possession,” Liam acknowledged.
As reigning champions, Liam believes that Garrycastle will provide formidable opening fixture opposition for Athlone.
“Reigning county champions always return to competitive action with a certain level of confidence and it is a tough ask of my players to post their first championship win against the Flanagan Cup holder.
“Hopefully, as the match progresses and enters the latter stages, we can remain competitive with an opportunity to win the game. If Garrycastle slip into fifth gear on the field we have to be able to do similarly and if we can then a positive outcome may arise.
“Morale is strong within the camp and hopefully, that will transmit onto the pitch on Sunday evening,” Liam enthused.