Whatever happens from here on in, 2008 has already been a memorable, indeed historic, year for both Castledaly and Maryland who were crowned Westmeath senior and intermediate champions respectively in the last few weeks.
The real pressure is off them both, even before they kick a ball in their Leinster club campaign. Yet, with that said, as Westmeath representatives, both sets of players will be determined to acquit themselves well, and do their best to go as far as they can in the Leinster club championship.
After all, there is no guarantee that either set of players will get a shot at provincial glory in their playing careers again, so they would be well advised to make the most of this opportunity. Both Westmeath sides must travel into the lions den where very stiff opposition await this weekend. While both will wear the underdog tag, there is no reason why they can’t cause an upset and take a step closer to provincial glory.
Castledaly v Navan O’Mahonys (Sunday, Navan 2.30pm )
The well-deserved celebrations which accompanied Castledaly’s first-ever senior county title have died down for the time being at least as Padraig Farrell’s men prepare to take on Meath champions Navan O’Mahonys, in the quarter final of the Leinster club championship. The Royal champions, with the likes of Mark Ward, Stephen Bray, Kevin Reilly, and Niall McKeigue in their ranks, are being tipped as strong provincial contenders this year and will be difficult to turn over in their own back yard. The Meath men got a lucky break last weekend when Matty Forde’s Kilanerin refused to play on Sunday, having captured the Wexford title on Saturday.
While the celebrations are bound to have taken some of the edge off them, Castledaly still have plenty of reason to travel with confidence on Sunday. Firstly, they are expected to have a full panel to choose from, which is always a help. Secondly, as they showed in the county final against Garrycastle, they are happy to wear the underdog tag and have an inner belief which can carry them a long way. Their one-for- all and all-for-one style, a trait often associated with Meath teams over the years, is another great weapon to carry into battle. Added to that is the fact that they are a well balanced outfit with a tight, mobile defence, an ultra competitive midfield, and a forward line that has improved beyond recognition this year.
While many observers will be writing off Castledaly, it’s worth remembering that Tyrrellspass came very close to capturing the provincial title last year, and Castledaly accounted for them in this years county semi-final. They have also grown in confidence since then. Weather conditions are not promised great this weekend, which should keep the scoring down. This again could suit Castledaly, and I for one won’t be shocked if they have further reason to celebrate come Sunday evening.
Maryland v Ballyroan Abbey (Sunday, Ballyroan 2.30pm ).
Finbar Egan’s Maryland face an equally difficult outing as they travel to Laois where Ballyroan Abbey await. Of course Maryland got a taste of having to travel to games outside the county earlier in the year en route to capturing the Celebrity Bainisteoir title.
The Drumraney men will definitely be without the services of Ronan Moran, and there are question marks hanging over Philip Rainey.
Their opponents have a number of Laois seniors in their ranks, including Michael John Tierney, Padraig McMahon and Scott Conroy. Indeed Ballyroan Gaels, a temporary amalgamation of Ballyroan and Abbeyleix, captured the Laois senior title as recently as 2006 before being relegated last year. Not surprisingly, therefore, they will be difficult to turn over.
Yet Maryland have shown in each of their outings this year, particularly against Tang, Tubberclare and Ballanacargy, that they know how to battle and come out on top. If they can limit the influence of Ballyroan’s county men, in particular the influential Michael John Tierney, then they are not without a chance.
Keane helps Ireland reclaim Cormac McAnallen Cup
Westmeaths double all-star corner back John Keane brought further honour to his club and county by playing a central role in Irelands 57-52 second test win over Australia in Melbourne last Friday. Ireland of course won the series with an aggregate score of 102 to 97 to reclaim the Cormac McAnallen Cup. Keane, as expected, adopted admirably to the compromise game and was one of Irelands most consistent players over the two games.
Hot on the heels of collecting his second all-star award, Keane got further recognition last Thursday when it was announced he was selected at right corner back on the Opel Gaelic Team of The Year. He will receive this award at the annual GPA awards in City West tonight (Friday ).
The two other Westmeath players nominated, Gary Connaughton and Michael Ennis, were unlucky not to make the final selection.