Westmeath v Louth (Drogheda 2.30pm )
The bookies may have Westmeath rated as 11/8 outsiders to collect both points on offer when they travel to Drogheda on Sunday but I have a good feeling that Pat Flanagan’s men can get their 2011 league campaign off to a winning start.
After 14 straight defeats which saw us slip from division one to division three in Cowenesque fashion it is no wonder the bookies are sceptical about our chances on Sunday. Even more so given that Louth came within a whisker of winning the O’Byrne Cup, a late Kildare goal adding further heartbreak to the Wee County last Sunday.
Yet this is a new year and a clean slate and a chance for this panel of Westmeath players to restore pride in the jersey. Reports are that training has been going very well and competition for places on the final panel is very competitive - perhaps more competitive than in recent years. This augers very well for the year ahead and a win on Sunday would be a timely boost after two years of doom.
Pat Flanagan has made no secret of his desire to gain promotion from division three. Sunday’s opener could have a big bearing on this goal. Paudi often drummed it in to us in his own inimitable style, that winning is infectious. If Westmeath can get a win under their belts in the opener then our chances of promotion seem a lot more attainable. Of course the opposite is also true. There are no easy games even in division three.
Dessie Dolan, Dennis Glennon, Paul Greville, and Ger Egan will spearhead the attack with Davey Glennon, John Connellan, and Peter Tormey and Paul Bannon amongst those who will be vying for the remaining two spots. Egan has shown up well in the O’Byrne Cup and looks capable of having a big role to play this year. Fergal Wilson is unavailable for Sunday’s game.
Midfield is vital and it is no accident that many of our best days were at a time when Rory O’Connell and David O’Shaughnessy were in their prime. That combination has yet to be replaced and it is vital that we become more competitive in that sector this year.
David Duffy is ruled out through injury but Dennis Corroon looks certain to fill one of the midfield berths with either John Heslin or Brendan Murtagh likely to fill the other. Their contribution on Sunday will be vital given Louth’s strength in that sector. Heslin is an exciting prospect and while still very young he could have a lot to offer to the cause this year.
Gary Connaughton will man the sticks and will be looking to the likes of John Gaffey, Robert English, Kieran Gavin, Frank Boyle, and Doran Harte to provide the necessary cover. Robert English has been a real find so far at full-back and Sunday’s game will be a further learning curve for the young Tang man.
All in all it is a strong Westmeath panel that will make the journey. Our defence is strong and won’t leak scores easily. Up front we have plenty of scoring option. The over-reliance on Dessie to provide scores has been diluted with the emergence of Greville and Ger Egan and this is a major plus.
If we can break even at midfield, and I have a good feeling we can, then I don’t see any reason we can’t collect both points on offer on Sunday. It may be early days in the season but our performance on Sunday will be a good indicator as to our fortunes in the year ahead. I gotta feeling.....