Westmeath suffered another disappointing Leinster SHC Round Robin loss against Kerry at Cusack Park on Sunday.
Despite the 0-20 to 2-12 loss, Westmeath could still advance to the knockout stages. That depends on the final round of group fixtures, with Westmeath needing a win over neighbours Meath, while Laois must beat Kerry in Tralee.
“I wouldn’t call it a slim chance, I think we have a real chance,” manager Michael Ryan remarked in an interview with Midlands Sport 103 following the Kerry encounter. “Laois have got to win in Kerry, maybe that won’t happen, but we aren’t even thinking about that. Our priority is the next game.
“I’m long enough around here to know that the rivalry between Meath and Westmeath is serious. Old people have stopped me in the street talking about it. Our job is to prepare properly, to come out to perform in that match to see where it takes us.”
While Westmeath, who had Niall O’Brien red carded early on, finished strongly in the Kerry fixture, the visitors had already inflicted enough damage. With Shane Nolan accurate from frees, Kerry led 0-12 to 0-5 at the interval. Killian Doyle and Niall Mitchell did net second half goals for Westmeath, but Kerry held out.
“We are very disappointed; I honestly don’t know what to make of it,” Ryan stated. “We came into this game with such high hopes, but at the end of the day we didn’t play well enough. We made a lot of mistakes during the game, our hurling was disappointing.
“That is what happens, we have been having that kind of a year, we have been up and down. Apart from the Antrim game we haven’t really struck that many highs. In patches of games we were good. We were very good in the last 15 minutes, that was probably too late, but even then we could have snatched it.
“Confidence is a huge factor, there is no doubt about that. Sometimes when you aren’t winning matches your confidence suffers. Above all, I’m disappointed for the lads, we know what they can do, but we haven’t done it.”
Ryan felt that Westmeath were not clinical during the opening period.
“What was crucial in the first half was that we missed four or five gilt edged chances at points - 30, 40, 50 yards out straight in front of the goal,” Ryan said. “We had chances to be within three or four points of them at half-time, but we didn’t take those. In spite of the sending off we didn’t take those chances. We got it back to four, but then we missed a great opportunity. We kept battling until the very end, but on the day we just didn’t do enough.”
Following two encouraging campaigns, Westmeath have been forced to deal with a couple of cruel setbacks in 2017.
“I spoke at the start of the year about counties like Westmeath,” Ryan said. “For the last two years prior to this they put in a savage effort. Sometimes it is difficult for players. If you aren’t going to be playing in Croke Park or in Leinster Finals, sometimes it is difficult to sustain that when you don’t see light at the end of the tunnel. I was always worried about the third year syndrome.
“We certainly have a third year syndrome. There are other factors as well. We had a few injuries, we lost a few fellas. There are some basic principles in the game, discipline is high up there. Our discipline hasn’t been at the level it should be for the last couple of games. We gave away a lot of frees, we did a lot of things wrong.”