Leinster SHC quarter-final
Westmeath v Galway (Cusack Park, Sunday, 3.30pm )
Once bitten, twice shy. Galway got a bit of a bite last year when they came to Mullingar and almost left red-faced after a sterling Westmeath performance came close to causing a seismic upset. In the end Galway’s strength in depth and the introduction of Joe Canning saw the hot favourites progress, but they had got one hell of a fright.
This time around a lot has changed. One thing for sure is that Galway will not be taking Brian Hanley’s men for granted. New Galway boss Anthony Cunningham needs no introduction around these parts following his exploits as Garrycastle (and St Brigid’s ) manager. Cunningham will be looking for a performance as well as a result on Sunday to satisfy an over-demanding Galway hurling public. He won’t leave anything to chance.
Westmeath have serious changes in personnel since 12 months ago with only five of the starting team and nine from the total panel still involved. Brian Hanley has not shied away from giving youth its chance and the likes of Niall O’Brien and Aonghus Clarke excelled in the win over Antrim but will face a much bigger step up in class against the Tribesmen.
Andrew Mitchell and Dan Carty are ruled out through injury and they are undoubtedly a loss. So too is veteran Darren McCormack who recently announced his retirement from the inter-county game. Darren has given huge service to the maroon and white jersey over a long number of years. I hurled alongside him on a Westmeath u14 team in 1991 and 1992 in the Tony Forristal tournament in Waterford and he has rarely, if ever, had a poor game since then. His will be big boots to fill though, especially on a big occasion like Sunday.
If running them so close wasn’t enough to have Galway on their guard when they come to town beating Antrim will certainly leave them in no mood for complacency. Galway have the most competitive club championship in the country and have had an embarrassment of talent at underage level. There is no doubt that they have underachieved at senior level but one of these years they are going to get the balance right. Anthony Cunningham is a shrewd operator and if he can’t get the best out of them nobody will. More bad news for the home side!
On the other hand all of the pressure is on the Tribesmen who will be expected to ease through to the semi-final. Joe Canning is a major doubt following a bang on his injured shoulder while David Collins is also on the injured list.
Also Brian Hanley has made no secret of the fact that Westmeath reserve their best performance for the familiar surrounds of Cusack Park and will be difficult for any team to beat there. Anything is possible and provided they don’t concede early goals they should at least remain competitive and give the home support plenty to cheer about.