Cooney: ‘It’ll go to the wire’
Westmeath's Leinster senior football championship campaign gets underway this Sunday when they travel the short distance to Tullamore to take on Laois at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park (throw-in 2pm).
Westmeath supporters will be happy with the way things have unfolded for their team so far this season, with Jack Cooney's side having earned promotion to Division 2 and claiming the Division Three title with a 1-13 to 0-13 victory over Laois in the final.
Interestingly, this will be Westmeath’s third competitive fixture against John Sugrue’s outfit this year and once again Cooney and his backroom team are attempting to plot their downfall.
Speaking ahead of their Leinster opener, Westmeath manager Cooney said he is looking forward to what will be his first championship encounter in charge of the Lake County.
“This is the type of game both players and management want to be involved in. It’s been over seven weeks since we won the league title so our focus has now completely turned towards summer football,” said the Coralstown/Kinnegad clubman.
“Setting out at the start of the year, we broke the year down into sections. It was important at the beginning to create an environment within the camp that all the players would buy into. We wanted to raise our standards so we could progress to a level where we could compete with the stronger football counties.
“Being promoted to Division 2 gives us an opportunity to pit ourselves against higher quality teams next year. We competed in a very competitive league this season and there were no easy games.
“We didn’t get off to a brilliant start but the more we progressed in the competition, we started to grind out the right results. We took a mini-break after the league final and when the players returned we started to prepare for the Championship.”
Looking ahead to Sunday;s encounter, Cooney is expecting a very tough challenge against Laois. “John Sugrue is a very astute manager and he has a proven record with Laois and with other teams he managed previously,” he said. “I’ve no doubt they will have their homework done on us.
“The fact that we have played them twice already this year will make the game more intriguing. We beat them in both games but that will count for nothing. The only impact it will have on the day is that the players will be familiar with one another.”
The Westmeath manager explained that preparation for the Championship is somewhat different to that in the League.
“To be honest, we didn’t train too hard in our league campaign, due to the fact we were playing games most weekends, so we felt it wasn’t necessary to push the lads too hard in training,” said Cooney. “We obviously changed that approach when our attention turned towards the Championship.
“It’s important that we get the maximum performance from the players so we need to have them peaking at the optimum time. This is a fine art and there’s a lot of sports science behind it but our backroom team have been doing a very professional job with the entire squad.
“We have stepped up our training and increased the tempo over the last number of weeks and the players are responding very well to everything we have asked them to work on in training.”
Cooney revealed that Jamie Gonoud, Finbar Coyne and Ger Leech have had operations for their respective injuries and he hopes they will be able to return to training later in the summer.
“We’ll need to get the best possible performance out of all our lads on Sunday. We are happy with the way of preparation has gone and we'll be hoping to implement our game-plan at O’Connor Park,” he continued.
“I feel this game will go right down to the wire; it could come down to an error or a simple block that will create a possible scoring opportunity. Our focus has been completely on this fixture for the last two months and we'll be doing everything in our power to come away with a victory this weekend.”