Disappointment and dismay were the order of the day as Westmeath hurlers and footballers both tasted their last bit of action in this year’s all-Ireland championships last Saturday. Whatever about our hurlers who were punching above their weight, general expectation was that our footballers would have enough in the tank to be included in the draw for the next round of the qualifiers which took place last Monday morning.
It wasn’t to be however as Pat Flanagan’s side were found wanting in many departments and were beaten by a hungrier and better organised Fermanagh outfit. Indeed the fact that Peter Canavan’s side could afford to kick 20 wides and still win tells its own story.
Having surpassed expectations with promotion to Division 1 of the league, the championship opener against Carlow went as expected with a comfortable Lake County win. Then followed a humiliating hammering by Dublin which perhaps will be used by some as a reason why they failed to show their true colours on Saturday. I don’t buy that one however. There was enough time since that defeat to re-programme, and surely beating Fermanagh would have been the best way to get over such a hiding. I expected a backlash not a whimper.
Plenty of people will point the finger of blame at management and there is no doubt that Pat Flanagan and co have questions to answer but the players too have to hold their hands up and admit (and there were a few exceptions ) that their attitude and effort on Saturday just wasn’t up to the mark.
Flanagan has to take responsibility for the system of play which many, including myself, feel is too slow in turning defence into attack. It is also his job to have players motivated and for whatever reason that certainly wasn’t the case last week. Pat was also too slow making changes when they were clearly needed.
The decision to use just two subs, Dessie Dolan and Ciaran Curley was also hard to fathom given how we were struggling in many departments. It clearly shows that management have very little faith in the panel and is worrying as we prepare for Division 1 football next spring.
The concession of three goals played a big part in the outcome. Gary Connaughton misjudged the flight of the ball for the first one and slack marking allowed the Erne men in for two more majors.
And yet had Callum McCormack found the net when the goal was at his mercy on 65 minutes, Westmeath would surely have gone on to win. The same player did look to have salvaged a draw when he brought the sides level as full time approached. Deep in injury time however Fermanagh corner back Johnny Woods took full advantage of sloppy marking to become an unlikely hero for the visitors as he popped over the winner.
The worst aspect of this result is that our footballers will not see competitive action again until The O Byrne Cup next January. A run in the qualifiers would have been hugely beneficial in preparation for next year’s Division 1 campaign. Based on this performance it is difficult to hold out too much hope for next spring.
In the second game of the double header our hurlers put in a much more spirited display than their footballing counterparts even if they ultimately shipped a hefty defeat. Indeed Brian Hanley’s side had the better of the exchanges in the opening half. They led 0-5 to 0-2 and 0-9 to 0-6 before entering the break level at 0-10 to 1-7.
A second Brian O’Sullivan goal put the visitors firmly in the driving seat and they ran out comfortable winners with Maurice Shanahan top-scoring with 1-9 to his name.
The final scoreline was harsh on this young Westmeath side which included eleven u21s. Provided they all can stick around further progress can be expected in the coming years.