Deja vu. Another year, another highly rated Westmeath u21 team, another glorious opportunity gone a-begging. Not to take from Longford who well deserved their place in the provincial decider but this was a game Westmeath could have and should have won.
John Heslin’s sending-off midway through the second half had a big bearing on the outcome. At that stage Westmeath led 0-9 to 0-7 and thereafter conceded three decisive scores.
Complacency undoubtedly played its part in the defeat also. I’m sure Pat Flanagan had warned his men against taking Longford for granted. After-all they were minor champions three years ago and had already beaten Meath in Navan which is no mean feat.
Yet I said here last week that this was a potential banana skin unless Westmeath were in top form and fully tuned in. At vital stages in each half Westmeath had chances of stretching their advantage but complacency up front cost them dearly. The longer they left the door open for Longford the more likely Padraic Davis’ men were going to come in and spoil the party.
Westmeath began brightly and led 0-5 to 0-1 at one stage. Chances to increase this lead were wasted and Longford clawed their way back to trail 0-5 to 0-4 at the break. With just over 10 minutes remaining Westmeath led 0-9 to 0-7 and again indecision up front allowed the Longford full back to launch an attack which yielded a point.
When Heslin saw red for a striking offence, Longford smelled blood. Three outstanding points from distance were enough to see them book their place in the decider against Wexford.
With 10 or 11 of last year’s team which lost the Leinster final to eventual all-Ireland champions Dublin, it is easy to understand why expectations were high for this group of players. Yet on the day too many of their big guns failed to deliver, especially up front.
It is a harsh lesson for them to learn but in football you can take nothing for granted. Every game has to be won and thinking or talking of winning a Leinster title is a bit premature at least until you have booked your spot in the decider.
This defeat will be a bitter pill for the players to swallow but the loss is a big setback to football in the county also. With the senior side struggling in division three we needed a lift and we needed to produce a new breed of young players who know how to win. The drought continues and the longer it goes on the more it is going to affect our senior team in the coming years.