Lightning isn’t supposed to strike twice but unfortunately for Westmeath footballers their dismal showing in Wexford was repeated in Casement Park last Saturday as they were put to the sword by an Antrim side.
Defeat marks the end of the road for Pat Flanagan’s men in this year’s championship. While promotion to division two of the league was secured it is the only positive to be taken from what has been a disappointing year. It is the first time since 1996 that we have failed to win a championship game.
Having conceded 1-24 against Wexford it was not surprising that Pat Flanagan and his selectors rang the changes. James Dolan, Michael Curley, David Duffy, and John Heslin were all promoted to the starting line-out. Dessie Dolan’s hamstring prevented him from lining out from the start though he was introduced in the second half.
Westmeath got off to the perfect start with 1-1 on the board after two minutes. Hopes were high that we were going to kick on and banish the ghosts of Wexford Park. Unfortunately what unfolded in the following 70 minutes was as bad, if not worse, than the Wexford debacle.
Antrim seized control of the game and built up a 0-8 to 1-1 lead by the half hour mark. Points from John Heslin and Brendan Murtagh saw Westmeath trail 0-8 to 1-3 at the break.
The second half saw Flanagan’s men reduce the deficit to just a single point on no less than three occasions but crucially they were unable to draw level. As the half wore on Antrim again put daylight between the sides with a string of unanswered points and despite the introduction of Dessie Dolan Westmeath never looked like bridging the gap.
Given our defensive deficiencies in Wexford it is not surprising that Pat Flanagan sought to address this problem. However I believe we adopted a far too defensive approach in Casement Park dropping both of our wing-forwards back. Seven points over 70 minutes is a poor reflection on the forward power we have.
I also have to question the playing of several players in positions where they have no experience. Aidan Finnan has no experience at playing full-back and it showed. Michael Curley was in the same boat at corner-back though he was one of our better performers. Denis Corroon is not a wing-back and Doran Harte is certainly more at home at wing back. John Heslin has very little experience as a centre-forward.
It is difficult to take many positives from the two championship outings this year. The inclusion of six of this year’s under 21 side in the starting line-up is indicative of the fact that we are undoubtedly a team in transition. The likes of Michael Curley, James Dolan, and Darragh Daly will have learned a lot from their experiences this year and will hopefully have a lot to offer in the coming years.
While the club championship will take centre stage for the next few months there is a serious need to unearth new talent ahead of what will be a very testing division two league campaign. Kildare, Tyrone, Meath, Derry, Monaghan, Galway, and Louth will provide the opposition and at this stage it is hard to see where we will pick up points.
A lot can change in a few months and in Westmeath’s case it needs to.