With Westmeath already departed from the All-Ireland football and hurling championships, talk in the county continues about how improvements can be made to avoid such early exits again.
Having secured promotion to Division One of the Allianz Football League Westmeath hoped to make some sort of an impact in 2014, but unfortunately the statistics merely confirm how bad the past six months have been. Seven league losses were followed by two more in the championship and regardless of the odd plucky performance those figures are worrying. Gaining belief over the harsh winter months will be a long process, but Westmeath panel have endured and they need to steel themselves because the trip back will be difficult.
Manager Paul Bealin has signalled his intentions to remain at the helm so it will be interesting to see what transpires. In the spring Westmeath did offer the occasional examination, with Dublin and Mayo fortunate to escape from Cusack Park with victories and Bealin may highlight those particular displays as evidence that he can plot to cause surprises.
Ultimately, though, Westmeath returned to Division Two and that group will be packed with demanding games next year. In Leinster, Westmeath appeared to be in a decent position late on in their Mullingar clash with Louth, but that tie was swung by a goal from teenager Ryan Burns.
A tricky qualifier draw beckoned and when neighbours Cavan were given home advantage against Westmeath the Midlanders were under duress. Westmeath were in contention at Kingspan Breffni Park, but Cavan survived; the end result was all that truly mattered.
Westmeath entered the summer bereft of confidence, but even with a quick glance ahead to the make-up of the 2015 Allianz Football League Division Two the Midlanders will face a string of demanding encounters. Division Two contains Kildare, Roscommon, Cavan, Meath, Down, Laois, and Galway so being competitive in that environment will require plenty of sheer hard graft.
There has been a willingness to provide youngsters with chances in the maroon jersey over the past few campaigns which should assist Westmeath in the future. As Garrycastle demonstrated in 2012 when they were within a whisker of claiming an All Ireland club title things can be achieved. In a fine drawn final with Crossmaglen Rangers there was such bravery in Garrycastle’s play that day and Westmeath’s best performances in the last decade have been achieved with that kind of desire. True it didn’t count for a lot in the replay when Cross cantered to victory, but Garrycastle made a mark by being honest and having a cut.
That essentially is what people crave to see and there is sufficient talent in Westmeath to enjoy a decent Division Two journey next year. Anything can happen in the Championship, but the Midlanders need to arrive into summer armed with momentum and hope.
When Louth stepped on the gas Westmeath didn’t cope and even though some defiance was shown against Cavan the Midlanders were beaten. Everybody associated with football in Westmeath needs to ensure nine straight defeats in league and championship in the one calendar year doesn’t happen again. The debates will continue, but Westmeath must be ready to commence 2015 in a far brighter fashion.