Westmeath senior football manager Colin Kelly has stepped down from the role after his charges crashed to an 11-point All-Ireland SFC qualifier defeat to Armagh this evening.
The Orchard County inflicted a 3-16 to 1-11 defeat on the hosts at TEG Cusack Park, bringing an expected end to the Lake County’s interest in senior inter-county football for 2018.
Speaking to the press after the final whistle, Kelly explained that the five-hour commute for training was a major factor in his decision to step down.
“It’s a massive commitment for me; I’ve a young family getting to the age now – I’ve a young girl and boy playing soccer and Gaelic in Dublin. Today I was at soccer in Wicklow and I came straight to here,” said the Louth native.
“That’s not an excuse; I’ve enjoyed my time here. I’ve a great relationship with [Westmeath county board chairman] Billy Foley and [county secretary] Pat Reilly, and I’ve made some great friends among the players. We’ve had some fun along the way.”
Kelly suggested that the time may have come for a native of Westmeath to take on the role.
The former Louth boss’s resignation came after his depleted Lake County side succumbed to an Armagh outfit which took the game by the scruff of the neck in the final quarter.
Westmeath made a terrific start to the game when St Loman’s, Mullingar forward Ronan O’Toole found the net after four minutes, but their opponents fought back to secure a 0-11 to 1-4 lead at half time. O’Toole finished the half with 1-2.
However, a fortuitous 43rd minute goal from a free for Armagh put daylight between the sides, and when a Ger Egan free made it 1-12 to Westmeath’s 1-8 on 59 minutes, that was the closest the hosts came to a comeback.
Goals from the Orchard’s Anthony Duffy and Gavin McParland followed, as the winners put the game beyond the Maroons.
When Kelly stepped down after the whistle, county board chairman Billy Foley paid tribute to the departing manager and thanked him for his commitment and contribution during the year.
Foley said that he had no doubt that a talented coach like Kelly would lead other teams to success in the future.
“Colin’s commitment to Westmeath was outstanding right throughout the year and we really appreciate his and his team’s efforts,” the Brownstown clubman said.
While championship fare (a Leinster SFC defeat to Laois, followed by today’s loss) was as poor as it got in recent years – the Maroons reached two Leinster finals under Tom Cribbin – this isn’t the full picture of Kelly’s short reign.
He led Westmeath to an O’Byrne Cup football final, and ensured that the Lake County held its position in Division 3 of the NFL.
Come championship time, Kelly’s efforts weren’t helped by a string of absent players. Marquee forward John Heslin was not fully fit for the clash against Laois, while the likes of talented forward Tommy McDaniel were unavailable through injury.
In addition, the hugely experienced Paul Sharry opted out of the panel this year; Kevin Maguire and pacy wing-back James Dolan are in America, and teak-tough corner back Killian Daly is absent due to study commitments.
Personnel-related challenges, and others, will have to be looked at as Westmeath’s football chiefs go back to the drawing board, faced with the difficult prospect of finding a replacement for Kelly, with limited resources available.