The 2015 Westmeath football story has been one of redemption, but Tom Cribbin’s revitalised team know a defining contest awaits at Kingspan Breffni Park this Saturday.
A round 4A qualifier with Fermanagh is the type of match where Westmeath will be able to determine exactly what progress has been made. Considering the trials and tribulations of last year, Westmeath’s rejuvenation in the championship has been encouraging to watch, but now another tough challenge must be embraced.
Fermanagh finished with a real flourish to stun Roscommon at Brewster Park, Enniskillen last Saturday week. That occasion confirmed the spirit Pete McGrath has brought to Fermanagh, who are delighted with how their own campaign is unfolding.
In the Leinster decider Westmeath troubled Dublin in the first half, but the concession of two quickfire goals early in the second period proved costly. Westmeath were unable to recover, but significant experience has been acquired by a predominantly youthful panel, who have played twice at Croke Park this summer. Getting back to the Jones Road venue for a third appearance is possible, but Fermanagh must be treated with the utmost respect.
Signs of Fermanagh’s development were evident in the Allianz Football League as McGrath steered them to promotion from Division Three. In that group, Fermanagh posted five wins and a draw from seven games before narrowly losing the final to Armagh.
Fermanagh have brought that form into the championship too, comfortably dealing with Antrim before losing to Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final. In that game Fermanagh were highly competitive which ensured they hit the qualifiers hopeful of making an impact.
That has happened too because McGrath’s charges thumped Antrim and then shocked Roscommon with a passionate and purposeful rally in the closing stages. Sean Quigley’s accuracy in attack and relevance to the Fermanagh cause shouldn’t be underestimated, while Tomas Corrigan is another key performer.
Westmeath are likely to be without talisman John Heslin, who suffered a heel injury in the build-up to the Leinster showpiece. The excellent Heslin isn’t expected to be fully recovered for the clash with Fermanagh which is a serious blow to Westmeath.
In the wins over Louth, Wexford, and Meath, Heslin was an influential figure for Westmeath, who also have doubts over the participation of John Connellan and Callum McCormack. It means Shane Dempsey and Kieran Martin will carry a heavy burden up front, but both players have been effective throughout the past couple of months for Westmeath.
Cribbin’s shrewd work throughout the winter and spring is being reflected now, but another awkward assignment looms. Fermanagh have been solid defensively under McGrath while at the opposite end Quigley remains an opportunistic footballer, who is adept at converting chances. Westmeath will be all too aware of the importance of being clinical as a tough and physical encounter is imminent.