Though Westmeath’s hurlers suffered another Walsh Cup defeat on Sunday in Mullingar losing 1-21 to 0-16 against Galway, new manager Michael Ryan was encouraged by another gritty display.
Jason Flynn’s accuracy was crucial for Galway as the talented youngster contributed 1-12 for the Tribesmen, who eventually shrugged off Westmeath’s spirited resistance.
“What I’m happy about in this Walsh Cup is that Westmeath have started 23 or 24 players and we’ve also had three or four more playing with different colleges,” Ryan reflected.
“It is a great learning curve playing against Antrim, Offaly, and Galway. Playing against those players is a big test. Next week we play NUIG in a challenge and we will hope to have our full panel of players. We are on the right track. We are making progress, steady progress, but there is a lot of work to be done.”
A physically imposing Galway outfit led by 0-11 to 0-9 at the interval, but Westmeath remained defiant. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team as big as Galway,” was Ryan’s verdict. “They had five or six guys around 6’4 or 6’5. They are ahead of us in terms of strength and condition. They’ve been on programmes for a long, long time working together. They’ve come through a very good underage structure.
“That is the thing about Galway. Because of Connacht they are in the quarter final of the All-Ireland minor every year. They’ve got a huge amount of talent, Mattie Murphy has done lots of work with their underage teams. Eight or nine Galway clubs have won the All Ireland Championship. Every year the Galway champions expect to win the Club Championship. That is the standard they are at.
“The big thing is that if you’re playing against a team in Division One they punish you putting the ball in scoring positions. We were happy enough that we only gave away one goal. There are several aspects of our game that we have to keep working on and driving on.”
With Flynn scoring 11 points from frees for the visitors Ryan felt that ‘softish’ decisions were made throughout the contest. “I wouldn’t want to criticise the referee, but I felt there were plenty of softish frees given. He probably gave them to both sides. In the Championship I don’t think some of those would be given as frees.
“We gave away a couple of silly frees. That is something we have got to tidy up. Usually on a Monday morning if you look at the paper you’ll find the team that scores the most frees will win the match. When you give away a silly free you’re handing the ball to their best forward to try to put the ball over the bar. We just have to keep working on the process.”
Making an impact in Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League is what Ryan wants to do. The February 15 opening encounter with London is already dominating Ryan’s thoughts.
“From a Westmeath point of view we have 15 clubs here, we have good people, we have a strong backroom team and we are working towards bettering ourselves. We keep emphasising the London game in the League. Derry came down here last year and won here. Kerry won here, we have got to go to Kerry. We aren’t even thinking about that. Our sole focus is on the London game.
“We have players to come back in. Just because they come back doesn’t mean they will automatically get on the team. We have talented hurlers around and we will have a look at all of the options in all of the positions. Hopefully we will have players to come in off the bench. We set out our goals as a management team at the start of the year and we want every fella on this panel challenging for places. There’s a lot of work to be done but the players have a great attitude. We want to have a serious look at everyone and we want competition for places.”
Galway manager Anthony Cunningham was satisfied that his team eventually prevailed to set up a semi-final meeting with Offaly at O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Sunday. “It didn’t flow really,” Cunningham said. “We’re happy enough but there is still a lot to work on.
“Most other county teams, you’ll have maybe 40 or 50 in a panel at this time of year and we don’t have that. We have seen everyone and we’d be happy with what we know is there. We had five or six new guys that played for the first time at senior level and it’s great for them - they’ll get it again next weekend.
“They are in pole position now and it is up to the guys who are trying to come back on to the team - whether they are out or not fit enough to start - to fight for that position. That’s the way we want it,” added Ryan.