D- day for U21 footballers

All roads lead to Dublin this weekend for Brendan Hackett and his under 21 team as they bid for Leinster success. Photo: John O'Brien

All roads lead to Dublin this weekend for Brendan Hackett and his under 21 team as they bid for Leinster success. Photo: John O'Brien

This Easter weekend is of pivotal importance in the young football careers of the U21s from both Westmeath and Roscommon. Both counties will contest their respective provincial finals at a time when football in each county is crying out for a lift. To win on Sunday would further enhance the growing reputation already being forged by quite a few representatives of each side and offer hope of better days to come at senior level in the future.

There are quite a number of similarities between both sides going into Sunday’s games. Firstly both sides are attempting to bridge a gap of around a decade since their last success at this age group. Westmeath won back-to-back provincial U21 titles in 1999 and 2000, while Roscommon’s last success at this level was in 1999.

Both sides also face the difficult task of travelling into the lion’s den to contest the final. Roscommon take on Sligo in Markievicz Park on Saturday evening at 5pm while on Easter Sunday all roads lead to Parnell Park where Brendan Hackett’s men will be hoping to conquer the Dubs on their own patch at 3pm.

It has been a difficult few months for the football fraternity in both counties with Westmeath relegated from division two to division three and Roscommon demoted from division three to division four. Not surprisingly a lot of hope is being invested in the U21s.

One characteristic shared by these two well balanced sides is their great team spirit and never-say-die attitude. Roscommon showed this in spades in the semi-final win over Mayo when, despite being reduced to 14 men, they refused to contemplate defeat. Westmeath too came from two points down at half-time against Laois to dominate much of the second period of their semi-final.

Interestingly if both Roscommon and Westmeath are victorious this weekend it will set up a mouth-watering All-Ireland semi-final clash between the two sides. That would fairly mobilise the troops.

Leinster U21 final

Taking on Dublin in Parnell Park in a provincial final might seem a little unfair. Yet that is the way the draw was made before ever a ball was kicked. I’m sure at the outset every Westmeath supporter would have been happy to be in a Leinster final regardless of the venue. Besides we haven’t done too bad to date with three home games.

The venue cannot be used as an excuse. If we are good enough, and I think we are, then we will win. Otherwise it will be Dublin who will be crowned provincial champions for the second year running.

Dublin have shown they too possess that winning mentality, coming out on top against both Louth and Carlow after extra time. Westmeath will have to bring their A game on Sunday if they are to create another bit of history. Any doubts or reservations have to be left behind before they board the bus in Mullingar.

Luke Dempsey had a great way of instilling confidence into his sides and thinking back to 1999, defeat was never considered an option. Brendan Hackett and his backroom team will hopefully have his charges primed for action both mentally and physically.

Westmeath’s greatest strength is that they are well balanced from number 1 to 15 and have plenty of options on the bench. We are not over-reliant on any one player. Our backs have been tight and worked well as a unit, getting good help from midfield and our half-forwards. Heslin and Coroon took a while to get going against Laois but showed what they are made of in the second half. They need to do this from the throw in on Sunday.

Up front we have six potential match winners with one or two on the bench that will surely see action at some stage on Sunday. Ian Coffey did most of the scoring in the semi-final and is well capable of putting in a man-of-the match performance again. Callum McCormack was quieter than usual against Laois but I expect him to shine on Sunday. James Durkan has been scoring goals and we’ll be hoping he can keep that going against the Dubs. John Egan has been clocking up the miles from his centre-forward berth and his link play helps knit the team together. Presuming Dublin are going to be physically strong it would be advisable not to overdo the ball carrying though.

Westmeath need this win badly. Every man, woman, and child who consider themselves a Westmeath person should get behind this team on Sunday. It made a difference in Tullamore and the Gaelic Grounds in 99. It can make a difference in Parnell Park on Sunday.

We have the team to deliver. All we need is a performance. I wish all concerned the very best of luck.

Connacht U21 final

Roscommon would be well advised to give Sligo the respect which they deserve when they travel to Markievicz Park on Saturday evening. While Sligo have never won the provincial U21 title, there is a first time for every thing, and if anything it gives them an extra incentive.

Sligo were surprise winners over Galway in their semi-final while Roscommon upset the odds by knocking out Mayo.

This novel pairing will ensure a large attendance. For Roscommon nothing short of a win will suffice. Their heroics against Mayo will count for little if they don’t finish the job in Sligo.

Roscommon are strong throughout but will be looking in particular to the likes of Neil Collins, Michael Higgins, Niall Daly, Kevin Higgins, Niall Carty, and of course Donie Shine to provide the necessary leadership. Alan O’Hara is ruled out through suspension.

Without knowing much about Sligo they cannot be too bad if they got the better of Galway. After all, that Galway side were crowned All-Ireland minor champions three years ago. Home advantage is another plus for Sligo. It won’t be easy for them but with the right attitude the Rossies should prevail.

Great win for Westmeath Hurlers

Westmeath 1-14

Antrim 1-13

Westmeath hurling boss Kevin Martin is in better form this week after his side had a surprise, yet well deserved one point win over Antrim last Sunday. Westmeath came from two points down with fifteen minutes remaining to draw level courtesy of two Brendan Murtagh frees. Murtagh then edged Westmeath in front before McNicholas extended the lead. Antrim managed a late pointed free but it was the home side who held out.

This Sunday Westmeath face a difficult assignment when they travel to Ennis to take on Clare.

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