After a break of almost two months the Westmeath football championship springs back into action this weekend with a full set of third round games down for decision. In recent years we have seen a number of teams struggle to maintain form after the extended break while others come back with all guns blazing. With the big guns on both sides of the draw set to go head to head, it is at the bottom of the table where the most intriguing clashes will take place.
In group two Garrycastle and Mullingar Shamrocks each have two wins under their belts and whoever comes out on top when they meet in Cusack Park on Sunday at 7.30pm will be virtually sure of securing a semi-final spot. The reigning champions remain the team to beat but many observers would see Shamrocks as the most likely pretenders to their throne. Shamrocks were recently crowned league champions and have been impressive in both league and championship thus far.
Dessie Dolan is unlikely to feature for the green and reds and Shane Mulvihill has headed overseas. The absence of both of these will leave a significant void to be filled in the Garrycastle forward division. Regardless of the outcome both sides know they will still have a big say in the business end of the championship. On this occasion I have a feeling that Shamrocks will be better equipped to take both points on offer.
Elsewhere in group two Maryland and Bunbrosna both lie on two points, while Athlone and The Downs are still seeking their first points. Realistically these four teams are battling it out for the third qualifying spot in the group. With that in mind the pressure is firmly on Athlone and The Downs to perform this weekend.
Athlone face Maryland in Tang on Sunday at 2.30pm in a must win game. Whichever side comes out on top will remain in the hunt for third place in the group while defeat will bring the prospect of a relegation battle all the more likely. Both sides are expected to be somewhat under-strength between injuries and lads gone travelling abroad but with so much at stake there will be no room for excuses. In an even money game we in Athlone will be hoping that our greater need for points will inspire us to play to our full potential. Anything less and Maryland will be in the driving seat come Sunday evening.
The third game in group two is almost a carbon copy of the Athlone/Maryland game with Bunbrosna on two points and The Downs seeking their first win. Both sides have had their problems in the league in recent weeks and are expected to be well below full strength when they meet. If Thos Cleary and Brendan Murtagh are available for The Downs I would expect them to claim the spoils here especially given the massive loss which Andrew Whitney will be to Bunbrosna.
St Loman’s, Killucan, and Tyrellspass are riding high at the top of group one with two points each. While Tubberclair, Castleday, and St Malchy’s are scrapping it out at the bottom of the table as each are without a point. In the top of the table clash I have a gut feeling that St Loman’s will upset the odds and edge out Tyrrellspass on Saturday in Cusack Park at 7.30pm. The Tidy Village side depend a lot on Denis Glennon and if the Saints can limit his influence then they can take a step closer to securing an automatic semi-final spot.
Tubberclair, who have been hit harder than most with injuries and migration, could struggle against St Malachy’s who performed well against Killucan. Whichever side loses is staring a relegation battle in the face.
In the final group one game Graham Geraghty’s Castledaly are pitted against Killucan. Enda Kelly is suspended while Tommy Warburton has headed stateside and both will be big losses to the south county side. Last year’s footballer of the year Paul Greville is a massive loss to Killucan. If there is to be a draw this weekend I think it will be here. Failing that I’ll give a tentative nod to Castledaly despite their poor recent form.