Last chance saloon as senior and intermediate relegation battles down for decision

Tang's Niall Bannon is tackled by Damien Dolan during last weekend's Intermediate Championship clash in Moate. Photo:

Tang's Niall Bannon is tackled by Damien Dolan during last weekend's Intermediate Championship clash in Moate. Photo:

The pressure is mounting ahead of this weekend’s relegation finals in Westmeath’s senior and intermediate championship. Athlone and Tubberclair will battle it out in Tang on Saturday evening at 6pm. At the same time in Rosemount Moate and Ballinagore go head to head for the right to retain their intermediate status.

There is sure to be huge interest and a huge turnout in Tang for what should be a fascinating clash between two sides desperate to retain their senior status. From an Athlone point of view this is certainly not the way we planned our year to unfold having reached the quarter-final last year. Then again I suppose no team intends to end up in relegation trouble.

Neither Tubberclair nor ourselves can complain about our current predicament. After all, both sides failed to win a game in the group stages. You can’t count yourself unlucky when you lose five out of five.

While Athlone have never lost our senior status, and the current group of players certainly don’t want it on our CV, we are also aware that there is a first time for everything. We might be favourites going into the game but we have no divine right to win. When the ball is thrown in we will have to match Tubberclair in terms of hunger and work-rate if we are to hold onto our senior status.

For some of our older brigade this is not our first time to have to fight for survival in the senior ranks. Having won the county final in 1998 and lost the decider in 1999 we scraped to a one-point win over Tang in the relegation final of 2000. Tang have failed to come back up since then so the importance of Saturday’s game is not lost on us.

For their part Tubberclair have every reason to fancy their chances against us. Entering any game as underdog brings its own advantages. They also have more recent experience of being involved in such a dogfight having slipped down to intermediate in 2007. They reclaimed their senior status in 2009 and will be in no mood to let it go too easily. They also have the addition of a number of players returned from their travels including the hugely talented Ian Coffey.

Danny Salmon can count on Gary Connaughton, Jack Byrne, Aonghus Hanna and the two Cassells to keep things tight at the back. The Athlone backline will have their hands full to snuff out the threat posed by Fergal Wilson, Ian and Alan Coffey in a lively Tubberclair attack.

This is a cup game and derby game rolled into one. Neither side will be found wanting and it is likely to be a tight and tense affair. I don’t expect it to be a classic but if we can edge it by a point, even a controversial one, I’ll be happy come Saturday evening.

Meanwhile Moate All Whites have a huge struggle on their hands as they attempt to avoid the slip to the junior ranks. Moate have struggled in recent years and have failed to win a championship game for two seasons. Two draws last year helped them to avoid the relegation play-off.

This year they haven’t been as lucky and with Ballinagore able to count on the likes of Michael Ennis and Tommy McDaniels, the famed Moate club will have to show significant improvement if they are to avoid the dreaded drop.


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