Spirit of ‘04 will be needed in Tullamore next Saturday
The unprecedented dominance of Dublin in the race for the Delaney Cup (12 wins out of 13 stagings since 2005, and unbackable odds for another success this summer) makes it all the more galling to reflect that when Westmeath deservedly won their first (and, to date, only) Leinster senior football title in 2004 they defeated worthy holders Laois after a replay in that year’s decider.
Indeed, this columnist is a weekly social visitor to the splendid Ballinteer St John’s clubhouse and a photograph of arguably that club’s best-known player, Coman Goggins (now a respected TG4 analyst and brother of Ciaran, part of the Westmeath minor team’s management this year), proudly doing a lap of honour in Croke Park in 2002, holding the as-of-then unnamed blue riband provincial football trophy, shows how much that win meant to the Metrpolitans, then in the middle of what transpired to be 16-year drought for the Sam Maguire Cup.
Oh how times have changed, and when - as seems virtually certain - Stephen Cluxton holds aloft the Delaney Cup after defeating Kildare/Carlow/Laois/Westmeath on June 24, Jim Gavin will follow on with the standard platitudes of “how much these Dublin players value winning a Leinster medal”.
Two of the four teams left on the ‘weaker’ side of the draw will almost certainly have been eliminated by next Sunday evening, including either Laois or Westmeath, neither of whom would be considered as genuine contenders in Leinster any more - a far cry from the heady days of the early noughties when two of Kerry’s most famous sons, Mick O’Dwyer and Páidí Ó Sé, made instant impressions in blue and maroon bainisteoir bibs respectively in their adopted midland counties.
A realistic chance of what would be, lest we forget, just a sixth ever Lake County appearance in a Leinster senior football final looked a distinct possibility when the draw was made last October. However, events on and off the pitch since mean that a quarter-final win next Saturday in Tullamore looks a tall order for a depleted outfit in maroon and white.
Westmeath suffered a disappointing nine-point defeat at the hands of Meath in the Bord na Móna O’Byrne Cup final last Sunday week. Losing manager Colin Kelly did not speak to the press after that game, but the Louth man told this publication’s sister paper, the Westmeath Independent, later in the week that his team will be ready for the Laois challenge next Saturday (throw-in 5pm).
Kelly stated: “I was disappointed with the overall performance of the team against Meath. We played some decent football at different periods in the game, but we were unable to maintain that level of tempo over the 70 minutes. We have been hit with a series of injury problems that have halted our preparations somewhat. We have a number of key players who are still recovering from injuries and in all the cases, it’s really a battle against time as to whether or not they will be fit in time to play any role in our clash against Laois.”
So far this year, the Wee County native has been without a number of key players, with Frank Boyle suffering a long-term injury in the National League game against Longford. In addition, Kevin Maguire (who had been away travelling) and Paul Sharry have not played this year. And now the Westmeath camp has further injury headaches on its plate.
The Westmeath boss has confirmed that marquee player John Heslin and Garrycastle club man Mark McCallon (a key defender) are looking doubtful for the Leinster opener against Laois. “John has given great service to his club and county down through the years and it’s hard to gauge if he will be back in time for the Laois game. As it stands now, his position is not ideal. He is suffering from a hip flexor injury and is fighting the clock to be back in time. Mark is out with a shoulder injury. He’s been receiving treatment, and it’s very hard to give a definitive answer if he will be back. This type of injury needs time to heal and we want to ensure that he is fully recovered before he returns to county duty,” Kelly said.
Killian Daly, who is training to be a garda, has also opted off the panel due to work commitments. “Unfortunately, Killian wasn’t able to give the commitment I was looking for, so he’s not on the panel any more. I expect Killian to play a huge part in future Westmeath teams, but at the minute he’s concentrating on work commitments,” the bainisteoir stated. On a rare positive note, he confirmed that Denis Corroon, who wasn’t listed in the Westmeath squad for last Sunday week’s encounter against Meath, will be available for selection for the Laois game.
All-in-all, the Westmeath camp looks far from healthy ahead of a difficult assignment against Westmeath native Donie Kingston and co. However, in truth, our hurlers’ prospects looked negative when they squared up to the O’Moore County in their recent championship opener. Hopefully, our big ball exponents can also somehow eke out what frankly looks like a very unlikely win at this juncture.
Westmeath and Laois have previously met 15 times in the Leinster senior football championship. The O’Moore County men have the edge with eight wins, the Lake County lads have six victories to their credit, while one game – the first Leinster final in 2004 – was drawn.
Westmeath vs Laois: previous meetings in Leinster SFC
29/5/1949, Tullamore, Westmeath 2-5, Laois 0-7
14/5/1950, Tullamore, Laois 0-12, Westmeath 0-5
8/5/1960, Tullamore, Westmeath 2-10, Laois 1-11
27/5/1962, Tullamore, Laois 2-8, Westmeath 1-9
31/5/1964, Tullamore, Laois 2-8, Westmeath 0-13
5/6/1966, Tullamore, Westmeath 2-11, Laois 1-5
10/5/1970, Tullamore, Westmeath 1-12, Laois 1-9
20/5/1979, Tullamore, Laois 4-13, Westmeath 2-8
13/6/1982, Croke Park, Laois 2-9, Westmeath 1-7
9/6/1991, Portlaoise, Laois 1-17, Westmeath 0-6
7/6/1998, Croke Park, Laois 1-15, Westmeath 0-15
13/6/1999, Croke Park, Laois 1-16, Westmeath 1-8
5/6/2000, Tullamore, Westmeath 1-12, Laois 0-11
18/7/2004, Croke Park, Westmeath 0-13, Laois 0-13 (draw)
24/7/2004, Croke Park, Westmeath 0-12, Laois 0-10 (replay)