Bealin apprehensive ahead of Louth clash

Bealin has stressed that Louth must be afforded the utmost respect

Bealin has stressed that Louth must be afforded the utmost respect

Westmeath’s disappointing spring won’t matter too much if a summer impact is made so tomorrow’s Leinster Senior Football Championship opener with Louth at Cusack Park will be a crucial encounter. Despite suffering seven straight Allianz Football League Division One losses, Westmeath are still hopeful of producing a strong performance when Louth visit the Midlands. While manager Paul Bealin isn’t unduly bothered about the league woes, the former Dublin midfielder has stressed that Louth must be afforded the utmost respect. “I’ve seen teams before having impressive league campaigns, but it can come to nothing in the championship,” Bealin said. “What scares me a little bit is Louth went down to Portlaoise last year and beat Laois by 10 points. Nobody saw that coming. “Four years ago they were in the Leinster final. There are a few of those guys still around and they are much more mature than our guys, who have an average age of 23.” Though there is a youthful cut to the Westmeath panel, Louth boss Aidan O’Rourke is adamant that the team travelling to Mullingar must raise their own expectations. “Louth are unique,” O’Rourke explained. “There is a certain mindset that exists within the county. They don’t expect to do well, they don’t expect to excel or to exceed expectation so that kind of does permeate into minds. So much of the work we have to do is to recalibrate their own expectations. They don’t realise how talented they are.” O’Rourke reckons that there is sufficient skill in the current Louth set-up if they get a slice of good fortune. If they get the bounce of the ball at the right time in the game that matters that gives them that bit of belief in themselves, they can have a very strong summer. “Westmeath were in division One this year and playing the best teams every week. We have a great chance to attack the Leinster championship here.” While Louth’s Allianz Football League Division Two campaign culminated in relegation too they have shown an ability to take scalps under O’Rourke, who clearly feels the Wee County are blessed with potential. “They have done a phenomenal amount of work in 18 months. I would argue that we are as well conditioned as any team in the country, and they have a capacity and an ability to play at the highest level. “It’s really just waiting on them to realise that’s the level that they are at. They are not far away at all. We had to remodel our forward line from last year because it was built around Shane Lennon, Ciaran Byrne, and Brian White. We played the first half of the league without any of those three. Ciaran is gone for good so there is a certain amount of change required. “We were good last year but, fundamentally, it just wasn’t good enough. There was a certain amount of culture change this year, changes to the squad. The league was difficult from that point of view, adjusting what we were trying to do and recalibrating some lines.” An interesting collision awaits in Mullingar according to O’Rourke. “The impression of Louth outside would be that they have been relegated from Division 2, not quite at the level of the top teams, but we feel there is a different story to be told. Westmeath are a formidable first hurdle, but not one we'd be afraid of.” On Sunday afternoon at Dr Cullen Park Westmeath are in Leinster Senior Hurling round robin series action against Carlow. Having lost to Antrim and Laois Brian Hanley’s charges will be eager to post a positive result. Westmeath were enthused by how they hurled when beaten by Laois, so avoiding a third straight defeat in the competition will be a priority as they will be eager to avoid the drop to the Christy Ring Cup.

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