Westmeath ladies face off against Cavan in this year’s Lidl Ladies’ NFL Division 2 final on Sunday (2pm) at Parnell Park in Dublin, with promotion to Division 1 for the next season up for grabs in addition to the Division 2 crown.
The Lake County easily overcame their Leinster counterparts Laois in the semi-final by a ten point margin (2-17 to 1-10) to set up this intriguing encounter.
Stephen Maxwell’s charges already played the Ulster side in an early round encounter and on that occasion, they came out as narrow victors. Maxwell, a Dublin native who took charge of Westmeath at the start of the season, believes that his outfit will once again put in a strong performance like in their impressive semi-final win against Laois.
The Bray Institute for Further Education-based sports development lecturer managed Kildare to a Leinster intermediate title in 2015 and was in charge of the Dublin minor team that lost out to Cork in the All-Ireland final last year.
Speaking ahead of their crucial encounter against Cavan, the Westmeath manger is confident his side will come out on top. “Without question, this is going to be a tight affair, but I have every confidence in the girls’ ability to perform,” he said.
Maxwell pointed out that Cavan were going through a difficult period earlier in the league and he believes his side will face a very different force on Sunday.
“We already faced Cavan in the first round of league and on that occasion, we won by two points. But the Cavan team we played earlier in the year will be completely different to the one that will line out in Parnell Park on Sunday.
“Since our last encounter, they have appointed a new manager and a number a key players have returned to the panel, consequently the whole dynamics of their starting 15 have changed. We are expecting a really hard fought battle on Sunday,” said Maxwell.
“We are considered to have the best defence in division two and Cavan would have the best forward line. Their full-time scores have been impressive. In their semi-final encounter against Clare, they hit 3-16 and in their last regular league game against Laois, they notched up 4-16.
“It’s obvious they have potent scoring forwards. Our job will be to cut off the supply and ensure they don’t get any easy opportunities in front of the target.
“From a neutral’s point of view, it’s going to be an entertaining affair. Our defence have been very steady all season, but this Cavan side will be our toughest opponents to date, I’m confident nonetheless our girls will hold firm and get the better of them.”
The Westmeath boss is pleased to announce that his side has no major injury concerns ahead of the league final. “A few of our players picked up a number of niggles in the game against Laois, they will be getting treated with light physio during the week, but will be fighting fit and ready to go on match day,” he said. Unfortunately, however, a long term injury to full-back Triona Durkan has ruled the Kilbeggan native out of Sunday’s decider.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s game, Maxwell is hoping his side will raise their performance levels again for their encounter against Cavan. “We put in a good shift down in Birr to secure safe passage through to the final and if we are going to compete we need to step it up another level,” he said.
“Everyone on the panel have put in a great effort over the last number of months and they know exactly what’s at stake on Sunday. If we perform to the best of our ability I’ve every confidence our ladies will come out on top and secure top flight football for 2018.”
Sunday’s Division 2 final between Westmeath and Cavan will be followed by the Division 1 decider between All-Ireland champions Cork and Donegal, and both games will be shown live on TG4.
Coverage will begin from 1.55pm.
Maxwell, meanwhile, has named the starting XV for Sunday's decider: Karen Walsh (Milltown); Rachel Dillon (Milltown), Amie Giles (Coralstown/Kinnegad), Aileen Martin (St Loman's, Mullingar); Fiona Coyle (St Mary's, Rochfortbridge), Rebecca Dunne (St Loman's, Mullingar), Laura Brennan (Garrycastle); Karen McDermott (St Mary's, Rochfortbridge), Maud Annie Foley (Coralstown/Kinnegad); Fiona Claffey (Foxrock/Cabinteely), Leona Archibald (St Loman's, Mullingar), Kelly Boyce Jordan (Milltown); Lucy McCartan (St Loman's, Mullingar), Laura Lee Walsh (captain, Na Fianna), Ciara Blundell (St Loman's, Mullingar).
The rest of the panel includes: Sarah Keegan (Tyrrellspass), Aileen Murtagh (Coralstown/Kinnegad), Katie Dunne (St Loman's), Marguerite O'Connor (Tyrrellspass), Johanna Maher (Tyrrellspass), Tracey Dillon (Milltown), Chloe Kelly (Clann Gael), Leanne Slevin (Milltown0, Ashley Ruane (Loughnavalley), Aoife Connolly (Garrycastle), Therese Walsh (Coralstown/Kinnegad), Nicola Judge (St Mary's, Rochfortbridge), Leanne Duncan (The Downs), Triona Durkan (Kilbeggan Shamrocks), Karen Hegarty (Mullingar Shamrocks).