An interesting Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter final is scheduled for O’Connor Park on Sunday when neighbours Offaly and Westmeath collide.
The prize for the winners is a June 25 Croke Park date against Dublin, while the losers face either Cavan or Monaghan in a Round 1B Qualifier on the same day.
Westmeath were hugely encouraged by how their Allianz Football League Division Four campaign unfolded, securing promotion before beating Wexford comprehensively in the decider.
Three relegations in a row brought disappointment, but there was lots to admire in how the Midlanders performed. Despite dropping down the divisions, Westmeath still produced excellent provincial runs in 2015 and 2016, reaching successive Leinster finals.
That owed much to Tom Cribbin’s passion and planning, with Westmeath delivering when it truly counted in the summer.
“We were tight with the panel last year and we picked up a lot of injuries during the league,” the highly regarded Cribbin recently told GAA.ie about Westmeath’s improved league form in 2017.
“We had to send lads for operations and we still thought we would stay in Division Three, but we got it wrong. We ended up going down because we probably underestimated one or two teams.
“So it was crucial for us that we got back out of it this year to win promotion, because if you don’t get straight back out of Division Four it can become a dogfight and very difficult to get out of that division.”
Offaly endured a mixed campaign in Division Three, but Pat Flanagan’s charges preserved their status at that level. The Faithful County won three and lost four of their games with a dramatic 3-15 to 4-11 triumph over Laois on the last day of group action.
“All the games between ourselves and Offaly in the last number of years, there has only been a point in it either way,” Cribbin admits.
“We were lucky enough to have home venue for most of those occasions so the next time this summer we are going over to Tullamore so there is probably a slight advantage with Offaly for that game, but there is nothing between the teams.”
A source of optimism for Westmeath is the increased depth of the panel in 2017, with Cribbin referencing the ability of forwards Shane Dempsey, Callum McCormack, Dennis Glennon, and John Connellan.
Paul Sharry and John Heslin remain accomplished intercounty footballers, while the versatile Kieran Martin and Ger Egan continue to impress.
However, a determined Offaly outfit has the potential to cause Westmeath problems, being unfortunate not to prevail in Mullingar at this stage last year.
Westmeath started brightly accumulating a 0-9 to 0-3 half-time lead, but Offaly launched a gutsy comeback when the action recommenced.
When the game eventually finished Westmeath survived to emerge victorious by 0-13 to 0-12, with Heslin influential contributing five points. John Connellan’s three scores from play also carried importance for Westmeath, who know that Offaly are dangerous opponents when in the mood.
What Westmeath achieved during the 2015 and 2016 adventures - victories registered over Louth, Wexford, Meath, Offaly, and Kildare - shows how far the current team has developed.
Cribbin’s Westmeath are now a seriously respected championship team, but they will need to be similarly resourceful to outfox Offaly again.