There is a busy schedule in store for football followers in Westmeath this weekend, with a number of crunch ties down for decision in both the senior and intermediate grades. It is of course semi-final time in the senior championship, with a double header fixed for Cusack Park on Sunday. In the intermediate championship there are two intriguing quarter-final ties to be sorted, one under lights in St Lomans on Friday night, the second in Cusack park on Saturday.
Garrycastle v St Lomans
The first of the senior semi-finals throws in at 3.30pm on Sunday and sees an interesting clash between Garrycastle and St Lomans. Garrycastle of course got the better of The Downs in their quarter-final while St Lomans topped their group to secure an automatic semi-final spot. The Castle last won the county title in ’04, were beaten in the final in ’05 and suffered defeat at the semi-final stage in each of the last two years. Not surprisingly therefore they will be all out on Sunday to make it through to the final, and have a crack at bringing the Flanagan Cup back to the south of the county.
In their way stand St Lomans, a team who have not reached the county final in 40 years. In some ways the Saints remind me a bit of Galway hurling, enjoying a huge amount of underage success but having difficulty in bringing it through to senior level. This year, albeit in a less competitive group than that which Garrycastle were operating in, they have shown considerable improvement. Despite losing their opening game to Coralstown/Kinnegad, they won their remaining 4 fixtures, including beating the Downs. We played them in a league fixture in Athlone about two months ago and I was impressed with their overall work-rate and the quality of the scores they took that day. They will need to bring both of these qualities to Cusack Park on Sunday if they are to remain in the hunt come Sunday evening.
Garrycastle will be most people’s favourites to progress, and barring complacency they should, but don’t expect the likes of Jimmy Davitt, Kenny Mc Kinley, Paul Martin, Enda Mathews, Conor Lynam, and Conrad Reilly to make things easy for them.
Tyrrellspass v Castledaly
The second part of the double header, Tyrrellspass v Castledaly, is a repeat of the 2006 county final in which the men from the Tidy Village emerged victorious after a heated replay. Both of these sides emerged from the same group. Tyrrellspass accounted for Mullingar Shamrocks in an infamous quarter-final clash, while Castledaly not only avoided the possibility of a relegation play-off, but secured third place in the group before dismissing Corralstown/Kinnegad in the quarter-final.
Tyrrellspass will want to keep their three-in-a-row hopes alive and will be warm favourites to progress. However as Kerry found out last weekend, it’s not an easy feat to accomplish and every hurdle is fraught with danger. Castledaly have already beaten the reigning champions in the league and in the group stages so should not be lacking in self-belief. Influential midfielder Russel Casey has an even more important fixture on Saturday as he weds Ballymore’s Anne Finn. What a perfect wedding present a place in the county final would make. With the Duffys, Kellys Warburton, Heavin, Galvin, and McLoughlin and co. on board it’s not beyond them. Tyrrellspass deserve favouritism, but if there is to be a shock on the cards this weekend I have a feeling it might just be here.
Lakepoint Park Mullingar is the venue tonight (Friday 8pm ) for the first of the intermediate semi-finals, where Kilbeggan take on Ballynacaragy. Bal made the headlines in their previous encounter with an impressive 20 point trouncing of Milltownpass. Kilbeggan lost their last outing against Ballymore but still scraped through to the play-offs at the expense of Moate. Scores win matches and with Ballynacarragy in a rich scoring vein at present I expect them to progress to the semi-final.
The second semi-final, which takes place on Saturday in Cusack Park at 3.30pm, is a mouth-watering clash between near neighbours and intense rivals Maryland and Tang. The two southside clubs are of course amalgamated at underage level, which only adds to the competition at adult grade. Both sides lost out at the semi-final stage last year and will be keen not to swallow that pill again this year. Maryland made the headlines earlier in the year by winning the Celebrity Bainisteoir competition under the guidance of Marty Whelan (or was it Mary O’!! ) but regular manager Finbar Egan will know that they face an even harder task this weekend. Tang might have scraped through into third spot but, having dismissed last year’s beaten finalists in their last outing, they certainly can’t be taken for granted. Local derbies are always difficult to call and they don’t get more local than this. Maryland have flattered to deceive in the past but on this occasion I’ll give them a tentative nod to progress.
Hurling semi-final replay
Raharney and St Oliver Plunketts must do battle again this Saturday in Cusack park at 5pm to see who will progress to the county final where reigning champions Clonkill await. Plunketts came from four points down in the dying minutes last weekend to snatch a draw. A close encounter is in store again but Raharney might just have the edge to secure victory this time around.
Tyrone win puts Westmeath in perspective.
Are Westmeath the second best team in Ireland? Well maybe not, but they did only lose to the all-Ireland champions by the same margin as Kerry (four points ), and that was only after having two players sent off. Westmeath certainly could have beaten Mickey Harte’s men in Clones which shows that with a bit of luck and perhaps a bit more self-belief the current crop of Westmeath players are as good as what is in the country. Admittedly Tyrone were probably open to more improvement than the Lake County when the sides met. In any case Tyrone’s all-Ireland win should inspire Westmeath to aim high when setting out their goals for 2009.