A busy week in the Bord Na Mona O’Byrne Cup ends on Sunday for Westmeath against neighbours Longford at Ballymahon.
Without a win against inter-county opposition since May 2013, Westmeath’s players are struggling for confidence according to new manager Tom Cribbin. “We need to make that breakthrough, get a competitive win, to give them that confidence,” Cribbin admits. “When you have gone so long without a win, and probably the slagging and stuff they got last year, as some of them said in there, they are nearly nervous walking down the street now with a Westmeath bag, because lads would be kind of smirking at you.
“So to get through that confidence barrier with them is going to be very, very tough. We are trying to.”
Cribbin was disappointed by the manner in which Westmeath were defeated 1-13 to 0-10 by Meath in last Sunday’s seasonal opener at Cusack Park, Mullingar. “There was some very silly stuff going on between us, beforehand, where you could see lads were shocking nervous altogether. I was trying to tell them it’s only the O’Byrne Cup, this is a learning thing for the league, and still they were very nervous.
“We went three points up, in the second half, then Meath brought on a few strong players, just cut straight through us. We didn’t have an answer and when they got ahead of us with the goal, we didn’t have the belief.”
“We are under no illusions,” Cribbin reflected. “Meath were trying an awful lot of lads there, but they have this belief in themselves, that they’re able to beat us, every time they go out. We’re the opposite.
“The pace of the game in the first half was very slow and even simple frees, we just didn’t have the confidence to even kick a 14-yard free over the bar. We played two challenge matches, implemented a game-plan to the letter of the law, but here we didn’t believe in ourselves. It made us look like we were all over the shop.”
Bryan Menton made a significant impact following his introduction and Cribbin was perturbed by how Westmeath’s challenge fizzled out following David Bray’s goal. “We finished very poorly, we definitely lost our confidence. When Bryan Menton went through the heart of our defence it seemed to give them a huge boost, and we were struggling at the time. We couldn’t win a kick-out, the goal just put a cap on it. After the goal we just seemed to throw in the towel, our confidence seemed to hit rock bottom.
“That is something we know we have to work on. I thought the way things were going in training and challenge matches was good, but challenge matches are only challenge matches. Competitive action is where it really tells you; the boys were very nervous before the game. Hopefully we can get on top of that over the next few weeks.
“Confidence is everything. Even if your fitness level isn’t there if the confidence isn’t there you can do nothing. You can work on everything else. We will have to work hard on the confidence issue. We definitely didn’t have the belief when push came to shove. That is what I felt cost us more than anything. I know it was only an O’Byrne Cup, but we wanted to show our character and show what we were doing in training. We didn’t do that.”
Having played Meath and DCU already in the O’Byrne Cup, Cribbin is adamant that there is talent in Westmeath despite a worrying campaign in 2014. “There are a good few of our senior players who worked very hard,” Cribbin said following the latest Meath loss.
“They are still only human. After the year they put in last year confidence is still down. When it was tight we were battling really hard. It is confidence without a shadow of a doubt. Playing these tournament games lets you know exactly where you are and what you’ve to work on. The lads know too, that is what we have to do.
“Are we going to put in a year like last year or are we going to change? There is only one group who can change that - the players themselves. We will support them and do whatever they require, but they have to start believing in themselves.
“Two years ago most of the same team got promotion to Division One in 2013. They cannot turn into bad players overnight because the average age of them is quite young. It is just a matter of them believing in themselves again.
“We have a gameplan that we want to stay with and to work on. We always knew challenge matches with a game plan is one thing compared to playing against a better team. They will counteract it so it is how you deal with that. For 45 minutes we were OK, but after that I cannot put my finger on exactly why it changed, but they made three changes at half-time to steady their defence. Then in the second half they brought on a couple more players in the middle.”
Cribbin also expects to make contact soon with Dessie Dolan, who announced his retirement from inter-county action last summer. “Dessie we have made no contact with because he only finished in late November. He would need a decent break to refresh, we will probably make contact over the next while to see how he is feeling and how the body is holding up. If he thinks there is something to offer then we will make a decision.”