In the giddy aftermath of Westmeath’s blistering finish - which saw off Wexford in last week’s Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter final - manager Tom Cribbin classed this Sunday’s trip to Croke Park “as nearly being like an All Ireland final” for his young panel.
So Westmeath will be accompanied by hope and quiet expectation when facing neighbours Meath at GAA headquarters. Playing the Royals is always a daunting challenge for the Midlanders, but wins over Louth and Wexford have generated momentum while also providing much needed encouragement too.
Members of the Westmeath panel are refusing to dwell too much on Westmeath’s dreadful summer record against Meath throughout the years. In the two most recent clashes involving the teams in 2015, Meath were worthy victors on both occasions in the O’Byrne Cup and Allianz Football League.
That reversal at Pairc Taillteann in the League was a severe setback for Westmeath, who had previously being going well in the competition. Before that defeat, Westmeath posted two victories from three matches. Westmeath never truly recovered in the league following the beating in which Meath pounced for four goals.
In their seven League matches Meath failed to register goals in four of those clashes even though Mick O’Dowd’s charges struck two majors against Wicklow in their Leinster quarter-final. In that match Graham Reilly’s importance to the Meath cause was underlined as the lively attacker contributed 1-4 from play.
Andrew Tormey also proved to be a useful finisher, kicking frees from a variety of distances and angles. Westmeath conceded far too many soft frees when defeating Wexford so that is an area in which they will have to improve because Tormey will punish any lapses in concentration.
What will give Westmeath encouragement, though, is the fact that Meath leaked 3-12 during a surprisingly open and wild match against Wicklow. John Heslin’s enterprise inside has bothered both Louth and Wexford so Westmeath will be anxious to involve their imposing full forward at every opportunity.
Shane Dempsey’s emergence as an inter-county footballer of considerable promise continued during the Wexford encounter. Heslin’s understanding with Dempsey has been a positive part of Westmeath’s Leinster fixtures to date and a similar level of performance will be necessary at the Jones Road venue.
Despite suffering a second League relegation on the spin, Westmeath have made progress under Cribbin. Introducing a string of newcomers to the panel has added to the feel-good factor surrounding the team as Cribbin seeks to turn Westmeath into a respected force again.
The triumphs over Louth and Wexford hinted at the potential within Westmeath, but the tussle with Meath represents a step up in class. Having accumulated 4-35 in their past two games, Westmeath’s shooting has been adequate, but it will be crucial to maintain such high conversion rates if they are to cause a surprise against Meath.
Meanwhile Westmeath hurlers will host Limerick in an All-Ireland qualifier at Cusack Park, Mullingar on July 5.
Michael Ryan’s side have enjoyed a busy summer so far and will be hoping to produce another good performance when hosting TJ Ryan’s Treatymen.