Cusack Park, Mullingar will provide the backdrop for Sunday’s revealing Leinster Hurling Championship round robin series fixture for Westmeath, who host Laois.
Though Derek McNicholas grabbed two goals Westmeath suffered an unfortunate 0-23 to 2-11 defeat to Antrim at Ballycastle last weekend as Aaron Craig and Tommy Gallagher were sent off, but manager Brian Hanley was satisfied with aspects of the performance. Hanley, though, acknowledged that Westmeath just weren’t clinical enough converting chances. “When you don’t take your chances you won’t win games,” Hanley said. “We got off to a great start we were four points up and they were flat. Cork almost got beaten up in Ballycastle, it is an awkward place to come, but I don’t want to give excuses, but our shooting let us down. We did get goals at the right times, but regarding the sending off I’d rather not comment on it. That is the way things go up here.”
Carlow’s draw with London at Ruislip means the five-team group remains wide open with two advancing to the knockout stages of the provincial competition. Westmeath shared the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A spoils with London at the same venue earlier in the year and Hanley felt people made too much of an issue out of that result. “The crux of this year is that people reported on our game in London saying it was a terrible and bad result,” Hanley commented.
“Those people now have to eat humble pie considering the conditions, considering the players we were missing. That really set us back, we have never really recovered from that. We are in the game long enough watching matches. When you are losing and winning with your club and county for years you learn these things. London are a good side, they will give you nothing easy, but we are moving on to the Laois game now. We aren’t thinking of anything else.”
Hanley feels the depth of his panel is improving. “Philip Gilsenan, Philly Reilly, and Paddy Laide could all be available. We cannot worry about Laois. We had our homework done on Antrim like we do before every game. You are relying on things going right for you and putting the ball over the bar.
“Eoin Price had a good game in Ballycastle, we had Aonghus Clarke and Alan Devine, Tommy Gallagher. We were missing half a team, but you could see the difference when we had half a team back. We might have been in a League final if we had these guys all along. All the rubbish that went on and was reported, but there are two sides to every story.”
Hanley acknowledged the contribution of former Kilkenny selector Martin Fogarty and Alan Mangan. “With everything that was said people were saying we were only like a club team which was degrading to our players. We have over 100 sessions done and we were set up perfectly to do well. The players know the truth, I know the truth. You could see how galvanised we were.
“I rang Martin Fogarty around four weeks ago and I asked would he give us a hand. He would be a very good friend of mine and would have been good to me over the years. A person won’t go ‘sound Brian’ unless things weren’t already being done right. He would have known what was going on and it has helped. Alan Mangan coming in too has helped.”
As important matches arrive thick and fast for Westmeath, Hanley’s sole current focus is simply the May 4 encounter with Laois. “I’m not even thinking about coming out of the group. We play Laois now and that is our focus. We prepared for Antrim, now we will prepare for Laois. They are further up the ladder than we are, but we beat them last year in Cusack Park.
“Laois probably did what Antrim did and underestimated us a little bit. We have to bring our A game to have a chance of competing with Laois. If we do that in Cusack Park, Westmeath will be hard beaten. I’m hoping and I expect what we are doing will bear fruit providing we stay injury free.”