Paul Sharry knows this might be his best chance to win a provincial title.
Westmeath have put a huge effort into lifting the Delaney Cup, but it feels only as if Dublin are merely continuing to widen the gap back to the chasing peloton.
On the club front, St Loman’s of Mullingar are in a first AIB Leinster final against Moorefield this Sunday, and their classy citeog says everybody’s ears pricked up once Rathnew sent St Vincent’s packing at the quarter-final stage.
“Yeah, that’s true, that’s an honest opinion on it,” Sharry says of this being his best chance of winning a Leinster medal. “I’d say it’s the exact same for every team when Rathnew beat St Vincent’s, the same talk going ‘Jesus it’s a great opportunity now, a level playing field’.
“Say for example if it was us against Vincent’s in the Leinster final, everyone would be saying they’re red-hot favourites, whereas they might be saying ourselves or Moorefield are slight favourites, but it wouldn’t be a major upset if either side wins.
“It’s a 50-50 game in my opinion. We look at it as a winnable game, no more than they are too. It’s after putting a nice bit of a fire under that championship.”
Within the Loman’s camp is manager Luke Dempsey, who has led the side to a Westmeath three-in-a-row, which curiously came off the back of a Kildare two-in-a-row with Sunday's opposition.
Sharry explains the confidence that Dempsey imbues the team with, highlighted even more in how the bainisteoir publicly lamented Joe Kernan’s decision to not call up John Heslin for Compromise Rules duty with Ireland.
“Yeah that’s Luke again, he’d put confidence in… he’d look at John and think ‘sure John is the best player in the country’ and he’d 110% believe that. That sums up what I’m saying, he would put nothing but confidence in the lads. In my opinion, John should’ve been called in there when you see the stuff he’s doing. If it’s being based on what we did with the county this year, Westmeath had a poor year.
“We had a good league but a terrible championship so, if you’re basing it off that, maybe it was hard luck he didn’t get approached. But if you’re basing it off his talent and ability, he more than likely should’ve been called in.”
In a parallel universe, Sharry might well be playing in a green shirt too. The one-time Shamrock Rovers player was juggling underage duties with the Lake County along with a prospective career in the League of Ireland. Ultimately, the draw of the club and county brought him back, and he has no regrets.
“Nah, no I enjoyed it while I was there. It was a huge learning curve and without a doubt it was one of the highest levels I’ve ever played in sport. People can look at the League of Ireland and say it’s not a massive level, but it’s very different when you’re on the pitch and things are going 100 miles per hour. I’d give all them lads serious praise and say they are top-quality players.”
Sharry started off with schoolboy side Cherry Orchard and estimates that he spent about three years with the Hoops. He was splitting his time between two codes, and ultimately one had to give if he was to succeed at either.
“You know the Milk Cup up in Derry, I was playing in that and then I broke my collarbone playing Gaelic with the Westmeath minors a week or two after. That messed up that whole year on me, and I was just pissed off with football then, and I think that’s why I put more focus on soccer after that because I wanted to give it a push. Then I was enjoying my Gaelic a bit more so I went back again.
“It’s a lot different,” he says of soccer versus football. “The soccer is a business, at the end of the day. It’s weird when you see players can be transferred. I remember sitting in the dressing-room in Rovers and, not for the life of me can I think of names, but someone just arrived up from Cork City. He was after shifting from Cork to Rovers, and that’s where he was based now to play his football. He just had a to pack up and go.
“Whereas you’re not really going to have that in the club, I grew up playing with the boys since I was eight or ten, and I’m still looking across at them. You might have one or two lads who are after moving county such as Ken Casey and Garret Hickey, for example, who were in Offaly and moved down the road and they’re playing with us, but you’d still know them. That’s the big difference there.
“Soccer you could just be brought in and out, and maybe the odd occasion you might have played in an academy together and graduated together. But in Gaelic, whoever starts off at U8s on a Saturday morning, learning to bounce a ball or whatever, they’ll still likely be playing with you at 28.”
Heslin scored one of the most sensational goals you’re likely to see in the Westmeath county final. After catching the throw-in, the number 14 played a one-two, carried the ball to the ‘21 and smashed it into the top corner. “Outrageous,” was Sharry’s opinion, but the latter's confidence in the side doesn’t just come from the former AFL star alone.
“You’d feel confidence but then again, the unsung heroes is what gives you confidence. As in our full-back line, there are guys there that are unbelievably tigerish corner-backs and you wouldn’t even know their names, but they’ve done so much work for us. You have to understand that every goal they stop going in, it’s three points less that John has to kick or whatever, you know what I mean?
“That’s what gives me confidence, them players back there that do so much unseen work, and then get the ball to John to kick scores. John is 110% one of the best kickers of a ball you’re ever going to see, and you’re nearly 100% sure he's going to score when he has it, right or left.
“But we’ve good players to get him the ball in places where he can score. So I’ve confidence because we have lads across the team who can do those jobs.”