Fresh from their confidence boosting win over Carlow in the preliminary round, Westmeath hurlers face a mammoth task as they welcome Galway to Cusack Park on Saturday evening. With Galway touted by many as strong all-Ireland contenders, a home win would be a shock of seismic proportions.
Yet for new manager Brian Hanley and his side it is the perfect way to go into a game knowing everybody has written them off. With Dublin awaiting the winners, a number of well known pundits have already dismissed the Lake Counties chances by making the presumption it will be a Dublin/Galway clash. The bookies have Galway at 1/500 with the Midlanders trading at 28/1 and the handicap standing at 16 points.
All the pressure will be on the visitors, not only to win, but to do so with a bit to spare. Joe Canning and Ger Farragher are two big name absentees from the starting line-up for the Tribesmen but both are expected to be on the bench.
While success at senior level has evaded them since claiming back to back titles in 1987-88, Galway have been busy collecting all-Irelands at underage, colleges, and club level. They have a much greater pool of players from which to pick and even with two high profile absentees they will have a strong and well balanced side on show.
Westmeath have never beaten Galway in championship but did cause quite an upset back in 1986 when they enjoyed a two point league win over the westerns in Loughrea. That Galway side went on to win back-to-back all-Irelands and amongst its ranks was current Garrycastle manager Anthony Cunningham. Perhaps this will give added hope to Hanley’s men that every now and again big upsets can and do happen.
Hanley of course is an Athenry man. As well as training club side Liam Mellows he has been a selector with the Galway u21s alongside Anthony Cunningham so he won’t be lacking in knowledge about the opposition.
The home side are expected to have a full hand to choose from though Eoin Price is nursing a hamstring injury. Westmeath players will surely relish the opportunity to test themselves against a team of the quality of Galway. While I’ll be as shocked as anyone if we manage to turn Galway over I think it is very important to put up a credible performance and avoid a hammering.
While midlands radio is sure to be keeping tabs on the action, the game is due to be aired nationally on Newstalk with Ollie Canning giving his verdict on the action. With fine weather promised and the bonus of home advantage a decent Westmeath support will be hoping for, though not expecting, a shock.