U21s inject hope as seniors slide continues

Timing, they say is everything. If ever Westmeath football needed a boost it is now. Having mixed it with the big boys and tasted a certain amount of success over the past decade, we are now experiencing leaner times. Relegated from Division 1 last year, we are now almost certain to be relegated to Division 3, having not picked up a point in this year’s league campaign to date. Down at home and Tipperary away are two tricky engagements that still have to be negotiated.

Not surprisingly then, morale among players and supporters could do with a lift. That’s what make our U21s progress to this year’s Leinster final all the more significant. They offer hope not just for this year but for the coming years at senior level. While Dublin will provide a stern challenge in the provincial decider, with the right attitude this Westmeath side is capable of going all the way. For the time being the only game that matters is Parnell Park on Easter Sunday.

While it is easy to jump on the bandwagon and support a winning team, it is a bigger challenge to support a team on a losing run. Supporters can and always will be fickle. Only a handful of die-hard Westmeath supporters travelled to Newbridge last Sunday. While that came as no surprise given the recent losing streak, those that made the journey nearly witnessed Westmeath pull off an unlikely win.

Indeed it was rough justice on Brendan Hackett’s men that they took nothing from the game having led until the closing minutes. Kieran McGeeney said that his only positive was that his side won playing badly while the Westmeath boss intimated that it was Westmeath that lost the game rather than Kildare winning it.

The evergreen John Doyle proved the difference between the teams, kicking five late points for the home side.

One of the few positives for the Lake County was the good form displayed by the recently returned Martin Flanagan. As well as getting downed for a penalty, which was expertly dispatched by Paul Bannon, Martin also chipped in with 1-2.

Paul Bannon is also growing in confidence adding 1-2 to the 1-3 scored in each of his two previous outings, his goals coming from well taken penalties.

Westmeath v Down

Last year Westmeath were in Division 1 while Down were in Division 3. It looks as if roles will be reversed next year. James McCartan’s men will be taking nothing for granted when they visit Cusack Park on Sunday. A win will guarantee them promotion. Unbeaten so far, although Tipperary did manage to share the spoils with them, Down will be expected to continue their winning ways.

Westmeath however will want to avoid the wooden spoon and as this is the last home game it is not beyond them to cause an upset. Paul Greville is likely to be ruled out through injury and his loss on top of the U 21 contingent would be a big blow.

Under 21 Leinster final

Westmeath bridged a ten year gap to book their place in this year’s U21 decider thanks to a well deserved 0-14 to 0-11 win over Laois. Westmeath’s greater potency in front of the posts was the main difference between the two teams. Indeed Westmeath’s greater balance throughout the field was in marked contrast to Laois’ over reliance on Donie Kingston.

Laois were on top in the opening half around midfield but Denis Coroon and Heslin found their feet in the second half. Coroon made two inspirational catches early in the second half which helped to lift the team.

Westmeath’s inside forward line of Coffey, McCormack, and Durkan looked dangerous throughout, with Coffey in particular causing problems from play and from frees.

The game swung firmly in Westmeath’s favour with the sending off of Laois wing forward Adam Ryan for striking Kieran Martin, having just scored an impressive point. While I do believe Westmeath would have won had he not received his marching orders, it was a costly lesson for Ryan who is captain of the Laois minor team this year. Incidentally his grandfather Sean Ryan played mid-field for Offaly in the 1961 All-Ireand and happens to be my uncle.

All roads will lead to Parnell Park on Easter Sunday where a large Westmeath following will be hoping another bit of history can be created.

Westmeath hurlers

Laois 4-14

Westmeath 0-13

It must be contagious but just as our senior footballers are struggling to find form so too are our senior hurlers. Another heavy defeat this time at the hands of a progressive Laois side is a further difficult pill to swallow. The concession of three first half goals as well as being reduced to 14 men midway through the second half did not help the Westmeath cause. Whether they can regroup and spring a surprise when Antrim come to Cusack Park this Sunday remains to be seen, but it looks a tall order.

Roscommon round-up

Things are looking up in the world of Roscommon football. Not alone have their U21s qualified for the Connacht final, but the seniors secured their first win of the league against Louth last Sunday. Substitute David Keenan fired over a late point to give the Rossies a valuable win. Having been on the wrong end of a number of narrow defeats in previous weeks this makes a welcome change for all concerned.

Meanwhile the spirit shown by the U21 side in their win over Mayo in the Connacht semi-final on St Patrick’s Day was a massive boost to the football fraternity in the county. Reduced to 14 men for much of the second half, they refused to accept defeat and with heroic performances all over the field, it was apt that ace marksman Donie Shine curled over the winning score.

They now face Sligo in the decider. Connacht meet Leinster in the All-Ireland semi-final so if everything goes according to plan we might be treated to a Westmeath /Roscommon semi-final. We live in hope.

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