Both Westmeath and Roscommon Gaelic footballers return to action this weekend in the All-Ireland qualifiers eager to forget their last 70 minutes of championship action. Roscommon and Westmeath are in very similar situations with both teams suffering heavy defeats in their respective provincial semi-finals and having just two weeks to regroup and try to focus on the qualifiers. On Saturday afternoon Roscommon head for the sunny south east to take on Wexford after their 20 point defeat to Mayo, while later that evening Westmeath entertain old rivals Meath in Cusack Park in a bid to get back on the road again after their 27 point defeat to Dublin. Westmeath started out their campaign this year against Meath in early January in the O’Byrne cup. The question is come Saturday evening will Meath be Westmeath’s first and last game of 2009? Both Westmeath players and management have taken some criticism over the last few weeks. There have been many excuses given for the poor performance against Dublin - poor league campaign, constant injury crisis, and the lack of match fitness and sharpness by a number of the 15 that took the field against Dublin.
There is no doubt that both Tomas Ó Flatharta and Meath manager Eamonn O’Brien are under pressure to get a result this weekend. Both teams have had indifferent league campaigns, with Westmeath scraping over Wicklow in the first round of the championship before their humiliating defeat to Dublin. Meath also lost out to Dublin in the Leinster quarter final by a couple of points, which on that form alone leaves Westmeath with a mountain to climb. Westmeath will take heart from the fact, however, that the Dubs did kick 17 wides on that particular occasion and the score line rather flattered Meath. Meath got back to winning ways on Saturday night in Pairc Tailteann in round one of the qualifiers with a 15 point victory over Waterford on a score line of 1-20 to 0-8. Eamonn O’Brien ringed the changes for this game making four changes from their Leinster quarter final defeat to Dublin. Midfielder Mark Ward and centre back Niall McKeigue were dropped with Brian Meade moving to midfield and Cormac McGuinness taking over the number six position. It will be interesting to see how many changes the Westmeath management team decide to make. Westmeath go into this game with a number of injury worries. Damien Healy pulled his hamstring towards the end of the Dublin game and is definitely out, while Michael Ennis is a major injury concern with a hamstring injury also. These two experienced defenders would be a huge blow from a Westmeath perspective, as not only are they top class defenders, but throughout the last number of years they have been the launch pad of many of Westmeath attacks and are very able score getters. Doran Harte is still recovering from a dead leg received in the Dublin game which may put him out of action for the weekend. He too has been one of Westmeath’s most consistent players throughout the last year and will be a huge loss. Good news for Westmeath though is that Dessie Dolan has resumed to full training and is expected to start. Dessie is very much the main leader in attack and his presence, even though still not 100 per cent fit, will definitely be a bonus.
In the Waterford game nine different Meath men were on the scoresheet with their entire forward division contributing. Add in the fact that they were without their captain and most prolific forward for the last number of years, Stephen Bray, for this game and you begin to realise just how dangerous a forward line Meath has. Joe Sheridan regained a starting place at number 11 for the Waterford game and chipped in with three points. Cian Ward and Brian Farrell are now both injury free and are in scoring form. Westmeath backs cannot afford to give the Meath forwards the time and space they allowed the Dublin forwards two weeks ago. If Westmeath are to have any chance of winning this game they need to take a leaf out of Meath’s book and get a greater return of scorers, particularly from their half forward line. For this reason I would like to see both Dessie Dolan and Dennis Glennon in the half forward line on Saturday at some stage. Both are very good ball winners and are more than able to score from distance. Dennis had a good league campaign but his championship form to date has not been inspiring. In his defence, he is now well and truly a “marked” man and with Westmeath’s midfield struggling for long periods in both championship games to date, there has not been a constant supply of good quality ball sent in to him. With Meath’s full back Kevin O’Reilly doubtful due to a back injury, Anthony Moyles is more than likely going to take up the number three jersey. Meath looked suspect at times in the full back line against Dublin and if enough ball is kicked in, Lynam, Glennon, and Connellan have the ability to get scores
I feel this is a good draw for Westmeath. There is no doubt that this game has aroused huge interest in the county since the draw was made on Sunday evening and I feel Westmeath supporters will come out in their numbers to get behind the team at the weekend due to the great rivalry among the two neighbouring counties. The more experienced Westmeath players have had many battles with Meath teams especially between 2001 and 2004 when the sides met a number of times in the championship. On those occasions it was a case of so near and yet so far. Meath, however, will certainly be no pushovers and will go into the game as strong favourites. Win, lose, or draw Westmeath more than anything need to rise to the occasion and produce a performance. There is no doubt that they were disappointed after the Dublin match and this will be a true test of their character. For some of this current squad this may be the last year of their inter-county career. Motivation on Saturday evening should not be an issue. I’m fairly sure a few of the lads would love to have a championship win over a Meath team as a feather in their cap before they hang up their boots.
Roscommon and Wexford do battle in Wexford Park on Saturday afternoon. Wexford were quite fortunate to win by one point against Offaly last Saturday in round 1 of the qualifiers, in which former Westmeath footballer PJ Ward kicked five points for the biffos. Offaly conceded two relatively soft goals which left them chasing the game and in the end lost on a score line of 2-11 to 0-16. For Wexford the result and not the performance was what was important and that win will have done the Model county’s confidence the world of good after their poor league run and Leinster championship quarter final loss to Kildare. They will feel that they have not shown the form this year yet that brought them to an All-Ireland semi final last year. Mattie Forde is definitely out of this weekend’s game with a back injury and is a major loss. However in Ciaran Lyng and PJ Banville, Wexford have two lethal finishers and the Roscommon fullback line will need to be on their toes at all times on Saturday afternoon. Roscommon manager Fergal O’Donnell is happy with how things have gone in training since the defeat to Mayo and they will be determined to show the whole country that they are much better than they played in the Connaught semi final. Roscommon full forward Senan Kilbride should be fit to take his place at full forward but David Casey is still a major doubt. Good luck to both teams. What price on a Roscommon, Westmeath double?