As the defining Leinster Senior Football May 17 clash with Louth edges closer, Westmeath will be anxious to continue their preparations by producing improved performances in the remaining two rounds of the Allianz Football League.
Barring a series of unlikely results, Westmeath appear doomed to an instant relegation which is a pity. Kerry will be the latest aristocratic team to visit Croke Park on Sunday for a match that has huge implications for Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side also.
Kerry, with several key players unavailable, had suffered slightly earlier in the competition, but wins over Tyrone and Kildare have generated some momentum. Another Kerry triumph may be sufficient to secure their Division One status for another year. Injury rules out Killian Young, Kieran Donaghy, and Declan O’Sullivan for Kerry, while Westmeath talisman John Heslin is also unavailable. However, the versatile St Loman’s star is expected to be fully fit for the upcoming Leinster Championship.
Kerry’s summer plans have been hindered by the unfortunate unavailability of Golm ‘Gooch’ Cooper so Fitzmaurice will hope that his forwards can still carry a threat. Cooper’s excellence at making chances means Kerry will have to adapt, but the form of James O’Donoghue in the League has been noteworthy. When Kerry won comfortably at Newbridge, O’Donoghue was the main man for the visitors scoring 1-5.
Paul Geaney and Daithí Casey are others expected to make contributions for the Green and Gold cause. Casey has been an influential figure in the Dr Crokes shirt for the past few years and recent evidence suggest he is ready to have an impact in the inter-county arena.
Casey is as adept pulling the strings from a centre forward role as he is a finisher inside, so there is a good range to his play. Westmeath won’t want to afford Casey too much space because of the problems he can cause with his sharp kicking.
Fitzmaurice is being forced to blend youth with experience enabling hardened performers like Marc O’Se, Anthony Maher, Brian Sheehan, and Donnchadh Walsh still occupy vital roles in the Kerry set-up. Others such as David Moran have been curtailed by serious injury issues, but the midfielder is back now embracing responsibility at centrefield.
That is an area in which Westmeath will seek to be competitive as Louth’s effectiveness in the sector will provide a stern examination in Cusack Park mid-May. That is when Westmeath will need to be at their best, but the fixtures in the next week with Kerry and Kildare offer Paul Bealin further opportunities to experiment.
Defeats to Cork, Dublin, Derry, Mayo, and Tyrone confirmed how ruthless Division One can be for any team not operating at full tilt. In some of those reversals Westmeath were gritty and gutsy. They will need to be resilient when Kerry visit the Midlands as a shock Westmeath victory could give Bealin’s charges a lot to play for against Kildare.