It is surely a case of nothing to lose and everything to gain as Westmeath welcome Kerry to Cusack Park on Sunday for round two of the all-Ireland qualifiers. Nobody, diehards included, are giving Pat Flanagan’s men a chance and the consensus is that it is only a matter of by how much will the Kingdom reign supreme.
In truth it is hard to see how a new look and inexperienced Westmeath side could cause an upset here against a team of Kerry’s undoubted quality but anything is possible in sport. Galway’s win over Kilkenny in the Leinster hurling final last weekend proved that there are no guarantees in any game.
Paddy Power is better off to the tune of over a million euro as a result of Galway’s shock win and while I don’t envisage too many investing in the 10/1 on offer about Westmeath this Sunday it does show that underdogs do have a chance if they have belief in themselves. Longford and Sligo very nearly turned Kerry over in recent years in the qualifiers.
A Westmeath win on Sunday would however be the shock of the decade for a number of reasons. Without the likes of Gary Connaughton, Dessie Dolan, Conor Lynam, and Paul Greville the panel is not as strong as it might be. Add in the fact that Kieran Gavin remains on the injured list while James Dolan is unavailable through suspension and clearly Pat Flanagan’s options have been greatly diminished.
On the plus side Callum McCormack gets his well-deserved starting place having made a huge impact when introduced at half time against Louth. McCormack adds further clout to our attack which will be badly needed on Sunday.
John Heslin should be in better shape for this game having had knee surgery 10 days before the Louth game and his tussle with Bryan Sheehan in the middle of the field will be worth the entry fee alone.
Kerry are opting to play The Gooch at full forward and John Gaffey will have his hands full trying to keep tabs on the Kerry ace. Darran O’Sullivan misses out due to injury but the Kingdom’s strength in depth means Jack O’Connor was not short of options and has included Donchadh Walsh on the wing instead.
Kerry are sure to be hurting having been written off by many following their loss to Cork in the Munster championship. Had Bryan Sheehan been playing that day I reckon they would be Munster champions now. Kerry are still very much contenders for all-Ireland glory in September.
As much as I’d love to see a shock result I don’t think it will happen in Mullingar on Sunday. Avoiding a hiding is important. As long as this relatively young and inexperienced Westmeath side are competitive and put in a performance I will be happy regardless of the result.