We have all heard the one about the only two Westmeath men to play midfield in Croke Park on All-Ireland Sunday being Foster and Allen. That would of course be doing a slight injustice to our own Barry Kelly who has twice before been the most important man in the middle on the first Sunday in September when he officiated at the 2006 and 2008 senior All-Ireland hurling finals. The Oliver Plunkett’s clubman has been appointed to take charge of this year’s hurling decider between Galway and Kilkenny also.
Kilkenny came out on top in his two previous finals with wins over Cork in 2006 and Waterford in 2008. The Galway supporters amongst us will be hoping that trend can be broken this time around.
Ironically it was another Westmeath man James McGrath who was Kelly’s closest competition to take charge of the most important date on the hurling calendar. The former Athlone Community College teacher and now deputy principal in Castlepollard is the stand-by ref for the meeting of the Tribesmen and the Cats. He took charge of the Leinster decider between the same two teams when Galway surprisingly blitzed Kilkenny.
It will be a much closer affair this time around however as Brian Cody’s men seek atonement for their Leinster final meltdown. While it is a huge privilege for Kelly himself, and indeed for Westmeath, to be given the whistle for a third decider, his performance will be under even greater scrutiny as a number of incidents went unpunished in last weekend’s semi-final. No doubt he will rise to the challenge again.