Cusack Park plays host to an attractive double-header this Saturday with our footballers in action against Fermanagh at 3pm in round one of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers followed by the meeting of Westmeath and Waterford in the hurling qualifiers.
While home advantage is a huge bonus, both management teams will be looking for improved performances if we are to carry off an improbable double. Our footballers will take to the field as warm favourites while our hurlers will be not be given a snowball’s chance in hell. Yet anything is possible as Dublin hurlers showed last Sunday.
Realistically our footballers are well placed to record a win, even if I expect them to have to work hard for it. This game gives them the perfect opportunity to make amends for the Dublin drubbing. Recent challenges against Roscommon and Tipperary will have helped to clear the hangover. An under-strength Westmeath side went down by a few points to Roscommon but a stronger outfit got the better of Tipperary in a game played in Cusack Park, kicking an impressive 4-12 in the process.
Peter Canavan’s side lost out to Cavan in a forgettable game in which it took them all of 26 minutes to register a score. Their starting forwards only managed two points in total so they certainly don’t pose a massive threat up front.
They will play ultra defensive however and as Down showed last week against Donegal that can be hard to break down. They say forwards win matches and if that is the case then this should be a home win. While it didn’t look like it against Dublin, Westmeath have a decent forward unit capable of putting up a match-winning tally. The likes of Martin, McCormack, Egan, Smith, and Glennon will relish playing in front of the home crowd and all know where the posts are.
Pat Flanagan has made two changes to his starting side with Denis Coroon and Lorcan Smith coming in instead of Doran Harte and Ciaran Curley. James Dolan switches from wing forward to wing back instead of Harte, while Coroon comes in at number 12. Smith lines out at full forward.
Dessie Dolan took part in both recent challenge games and is sure to see action at some stage. If we are struggling I expect to see him get plenty of game time but if things are going to plan then it would be wise to use him sparingly so as not to aggravate his hamstring.
Fermanagh came out on top 0-14 to 0-7 on the only other occasion these sides met in the qualifiers back in 2002 in a game also played in Cusack Park. I expect a different result this time around but it might be frustrating to watch at times.
In the second part of the double-header, Brian Hanley’s hurlers welcome Waterford to town. That is the prize for seeing off the challenge of London in Ruislip last Saturday. While they did get the job done, Hanley was quick to point out that a repeat performance would see them blown away by Waterford.
The Deise were impressive in their win over Offaly last in Tullamore last weekend with Maurice Shanahan hitting 0-13. They mightn’t have John Mullane on board this year but they do possess plenty of quality and experience in the likes of Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, Kevin Moran, Seamus Prendergast, and of course Big Dan’s brother.
Waterford manager Michael Ryan has made two changes with Richie Foley and Pauric Mahony being recalled. Hanley has opted for the same starting team as last weekend. While it is totally understandable that this is expected to be a formality for the men from the south-east, Westmeath have always raised their game when playing at home against big opposition. Hanley, like the rest of us, is hoping they can keep that tradition going on Saturday.