With Kildare and Westmeath already relegated from Division 1 of the Allianz Football League, Sunday’s last group match is a chance for Paul Bealin’s team to avoid a seventh straight loss in the competition.
Despite a battling display against Kerry, especially in the opening period, Westmeath just didn’t possess the depth to shock the Kingdom. Now Bealin wants Westmeath to get ready for next month’s Leinster Championship clash with Louth at Cusack Park. That process continues in Newbridge. “Both teams are in the same position,” Bealin said. “We seem to be playing in phases, but if we can maintain the good level for 70 minutes that is what we want. Going to Newbridge won’t be easy to get a result, but our lads will be pushing to get two points.
“It is really about preparing for Championship. We want to try to get a performance. Our performance against Kerry was really good at times especially in the first half after Kerry got a goal. That is a good Kerry team.
“We will be stepping up our training and preparation for Championship. If you look at it traditionally last year and the year before while Westmeath had a fantastic League programme they didn’t carry on in the Championship. We want to do it the other way - prepare and learn systems that suit against the best teams. I’m not overly concerned. I feel that when we play Louth here in Mullingar we will be able to go right until the very end.”
Similar as in earlier rounds of the League Westmeath had been highly competitive against Kerry initially, but the visitors’ pedigree and power were key factors after the restart according to Bealin.
“We spoke about it at half-time, we said we would give ourselves a chance. We played a really good brand of football in the first half, but the strength in depth the likes of Kerry and Mayo have is huge. You look at the players they were able to bring in compared to us.
“We had four or five lads on the bench who are 20 years of age. It does take some time for them to “come in”, to be seasoned. When you are playing Division 1 football against the likes of Kerry, who brought in guys to strengthen them further it adds to their side. While the lads we brought in did well, they just didn’t add to it.
“If you look at the games against Cork and Dublin, they brought in players to get scores. They have an abundance, Kerry have an abundance of talent. I spoke to Eamonn Fitzmaurice after the game and he said ‘Paul you aren’t far away, you are competing really well at times.’ He said to stick at it because we have a young side. I’m hearing comments like that all around the place. The guys were devastated because they competed really well.
“We gave away a sloppy goal. We had possession, but we lost it, got it back again, lost it and it ended up in the back of the net. That was a crucial time in the game. We created a goal opportunity, but unfortunately we didn’t take it. They took their one, we didn’t take our one. It seems like a cliche, but when you are playing against teams the calibre of Kerry, Mayo, Dublin, and Cork they put opportunities away.”
The highly regarded goalkeeper Gary Connaughton returned to the inter county arena as a substitute last weekend and Bealin was happy the Tubberclair star answered the Westmeath call again. “For the moment Gary is providing cover. I picked up the phone to ask him when Darren (Quinn ) broke down in training. Stephen (Gallagher ) was under pressure too so we mightn’t have had any ‘keeper so he duly accepted. Gary is a fantastic goalkeeper and has been a great servant to Westmeath football I’d like to have him around the squad. He will still be on the bench for the Kildare game and we will see after that. It is great to have him,” Bealin said.