Opportunity missed but still plenty to play for

Conor Lynam is tackled by Louth defender Michael Fanning during last Sunday's Leinster semi-final. Photo: John O'Brien

Conor Lynam is tackled by Louth defender Michael Fanning during last Sunday's Leinster semi-final. Photo: John O'Brien

Leinster SFC semi-final

Louth 1-15

Westmeath 2-10

When the dust finally settles on 2010, and no matter how things pan out in the qualifiers from here on in, Westmeath’s failure to reach this year’s provincial final must surely be seen as a missed opportunity. Now don’t get me wrong, Louth were deserving winners last Sunday, and will hopefully give a good account of themselves in their first decider in 50 years. Who knows, perhaps they will upset the odds against their Royal neighbours, who certainly turned on the style against the Dubs, though I do think it is unlikely.

Yet Westmeath only had to beat Wicklow and Louth to reach a rare Leinster final and they failed to do so. To make matters worse Westmeath were, to a large extent, the architects of their own downfall with a combination of poor shooting and poor ball retention letting them down big time. The off-field problems which hampered our preparations going into this year’s championship certainly didn’t help either.

From what we have seen it is unlikely we would have beaten Meath in the Leinster final had we got that far. Yet every game is different. One thing is for sure, they would never score five goals against us and they did kick only nine points against Dublin. As the saying goes if you are not in you can’t win so perhaps it is pointless to be surmising.

Disappointing and all as it is to be out of the Leinster championship, there is still plenty to play for in the qualifiers. Pat Flanagan and his backroom team can use the qualifiers as a way of restoring confidence in Westmeath football and gaining valuable experience for a number of our younger players.

A home draw against Derry is next on the cards. Derry are a team with problems of their own, with a number of key players, including ace marksman Paddy Bradley, likely to be marked absent when they travel to Cusack Park. It is still going to be a difficult encounter, but home advantage gives us a fighting chance of gaining revenge for 2004.

That would set up a meeting with one of the losing provincial finalists. At the risk of counting chickens, and perhaps ruffling a few feathers in doing so, that could throw up a draw against the likes of Roscommon or Limerick against whom we would fancy our chances.

That might be all wishful thinking but to be a Westmeath football supporter one has to be an eternal optimist. With no realistic hope of winning Sam McGuire there is no pressure on Westmeath from here on in, but if we could win a couple of games and blood a few new players in the process then it will be a very worthwhile exercise.

The main talking points after our defeat by Louth were the problems in our full back spot, Louth’s dominance in midfield, our failure to fire up front, and the nasty injury suffered by Derek Heavin.

Derek, who only rejoined the panel in recent weeks and has been a great servant to Westmeath since making his senior debut in 2000, suffered a dislocated knee during the first half. The Castledaly clubman is likely to be out of action for the remainder of the year and is a massive loss to both club and county.

Another great servant to the maroon and white cause over the years, Donie O’Donoghoe, was clearly struggling at full-back from early on against Shane Lennon. It took Pat Flanagan a while longer than most would have expected to make changes in that area and a fair bit of damage had been done at that stage.

Louth dominated midfield for long periods of the game, particularly when it came to winning primary possession. Paddy Keenan and Brian White also managed to chip in with seven points between them, three of White’s coming from frees. There aren’t too many better midfield partnerships out there and don’t be surprised if you see White get an all-star award later in the year.

Paul Bannon and David Duffy battled hard but it was a losing battle. Bannon did kick a valuable 1-1, the goal coming from a well-taken penalty.

Up front, apart from Paul Greville who again excelled, we were very flat. Dessie, Denis, and Conor Lynam never got going and numerous opportunities were dropped short or harmlessly wide. Greville kicked five points including three from play but unfortunately it was on a day when those around him failed to ignite. Martin Flanagan again underlined his class with a well-taken goal when introduced. One wonders what might have been had he been on for longer.

As a forward myself I cannot understand why Westmeath are so slow in letting the ball in to our inside line. Time and time again we laboured the build up in the backs and midfield instead of moving the ball quickly. On numerous times this led to possession being lost. There never was or never will be anything to beat a quick delivery to the inside line. After all the more often the ball is in the danger zone, ie 30 yards from goal, then the more scores should ensue. That is something which I feel needs to be addressed in the qualifiers.

Athlone represent Westmeath in Feile Peil na N-Og 2010

Best of luck to Athlone U14s and their management as they represent Westmeath in this year’s Feile being hosted in Derry this weekend. Athlone play their first game today, Friday, against Malin of Donegal. With plenty of talent in their ranks they will no doubt acquit themselves well.

Westmeath hurlers bid to regain Christy Ring Cup

This is a big weekend for Westmeath hurling as Kevin Martin’s men take on John Meyler’s Kerry in the Christy Ring Cup decider in Croke Park on Saturday at 4pm. Kerry beat Westmeath by six points earlier in the competition but Westmeath have shown significant improvement in recent games. Apart from the obvious honour of winning the Christy Ring Cup, perhaps more importantly a win would ensure entry to next year’s Liam McCarthy competition.

Westmeath have a number of injury concerns ahead of the game but all players are expected to be available come Saturday. Hopefully a good Westmeath contingent will travel to GAA headquarters to support the team. We wish them well.


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