WESTMEATH face a rematch of last year’s Leinster Minor FC final against Kildare this weekend, as both sides attempt to progress to the quarter-finals.
The Lake County minors have found the going tough in this year’s League campaign, and manager Tom Carr has had major issues surrounding player availability and with some players committing to other codes.
However, Carr still feels Westmeath have a realistic chance of making an impact in this year’s Leinster championship, starting against the Lilywhites on Saturday at Cusack Park, Mullingar (3pm).
“The league form has been disappointing but of more relevance, the whole construction of a permanent panel, one which trains together regularly and prepares in the correct fashion together, has been disappointing.
"For various reasons, that’s been tough to get going due to school and club commitments and injuries. We continue to find it hard to get guys who excel in rugby as well, but perhaps the panel we have needs to make a mark and get a bit of success before Westmeath’s minor team re-establishes itself in terms of recognition.
"We have a good side with some very fine young players and the ambition is to return to the Leinster final. Obviously we need to negotiate our way past Kildare to reach the quarter-finals but that has to be the overall aim for the group."
Westmeath, however, have injury concerns with Moate All-Whites player Ruairi Cunningham suffering from hip and groin problems that will most likely see him sidelined at the weekend.
Rosemount’s Boidu Sayeh and Athlone’s Stephen Ward - the latter who only recently rejoined the panel - are also big injury doubts.
“It’s the same for all teams at this stage in the year and we just have to deal with injuries and any other problems that come our way,” Carr said.
Cunningham and Sayeh are two of the players still on the panel from last year’s beaten Leinster final side, including Athlone’s Matthew Darling and Sam Omukoro. Other locals that could feature at the weekend include Caulry’s Eoin Fox, Moate’s Gavin Murray and Rosemount’s Aaron Farrell.
Carr, a former senior team manager with Cavan, Dublin and Roscommon, is in his third year as minor team manager, and has urged local Gaels to come out in force to support his players on Saturday in Mullingar.
“Home advantage can work two ways,” said Carr.
“It can be an absolute blessing when your supporters come out in force and get behind the team. But it can possibly have a negative impact if the stands are half-empty and there’s little or not vocal encouragement.
"The minor team has had reasonable support in recent years but unlike counties such as Dublin and Mayo, Westmeath supporters seem to come and go depending on results at any given time.
"I suppose that’s the case in all parts of the world but I would hope Westmeath people will be inclined to give this group of players a chance and their support at the weekend, because it would be a great help to the lads,” added Carr.