Not again. That is surely the feeling expressed by both sets of players and indeed supporters when Louth and Westmeath were drawn against each other, yet again, for the first round of the qualifiers. This will be the seventh time in the past two years that the sides have met with the score standing 6-0 to the men from the Wee County. Even though Louth have made a habit of coming out on top there has never been very much between the sides.
This time around however Westmeath have home advantage and if their league performances are anything to go by this could be the deciding factor on Saturday evening. Galway, Monaghan, and Derry all left Cusack Park with nothing to show as Pat Flanagan’s men saved their best football for home soil.
It is widely documented that both counties have had their difficulties since Louth edged through with a late match-winning goal on my 20th. Louth went on to get trounced by Dublin, something which will not have done their confidence or morale any good. They have also been badly hit with injuries as well as a few players opting to travel to America for the remainder of the summer. Peter Fitzpatrick had to cancel training at one stage as there were only nine players available.
Westmeath have had their own issues to deal with. Captain and inspiration Gary Connaughton has opted to travel to Boston in search of work. On top of that, John Heslin had key-hole surgery on his knee last Tuesday week, while powerful full-back Kieran Gavin remains on the injury list. Both players face a race against the clock to be fit for Saturday evening.
Westmeath lost out heavily to Cavan in a recent challenge game which would hardly inspire confidence in the squad. With that said talking to a number of players during the week they are confident that they will end the losing streak on Saturday.
As usual midfield will have a key role to play. John Heslin and Paul Bannon will need to curb the influence of the hugely talented Paddy Keenan in that sector. Westmeath kicked 1-18 from play against Monaghan in the league so if we can get enough ball into the likes of David and Dennis Glennon then we should have too much firepower for Louth.
I was surprised that Callum McCormack wasn’t given a starting place given the impact he has made when introduced throughout the league. He is sure to see action at some stage on Saturday.
With so many question marks hanging over both sides it is difficult to be confident of a home win. The bookies have made Westmeath hot favourites trading at around 4/9 which surprised me given the formbook coming into the game. I’ll be keeping my money in my pocket for this one as I give a hopeful nod to the home side.
Elsewhere Roscommon have a difficult test on hand as they welcome Armagh to Hyde Park on Saturday evening. The Rossies are sure to give a good account of themselves on home soil but it is difficult to see anything but a win for the men from the north.