Westmeath’s Jamie Mulkearns gets to the ball ahead of Meath’s Eoghan Frayne in the recent Leinster MFC quarter-final. Westmeath face Dublin in the semis next Saturday, as part of a double header also involving Westmeath’s All-Ireland SFC Qualifier against Limerick. PHOTO: JOHN MCCAULEY

Huge football double-header awaits Maroons on Saturday

Gerry Buckley looks ahead to this weekend’s feast of football in TEG Cusack Park

Two great stalwarts of Coralstown/Kinnegad will be donning maroon, and not red, bainisteoir bibs in TEG Cusack Park next Saturday afternoon, common sense having thankfully prevailed among fixture-makers to enable Westmeath fans to cheer on their very young, and slightly older, heroes in a consecutive brace of vital knockout championship games.

First up at 3.45pm will be Joe Giles’ minor (U17) team, fresh from a really marvellous win against Meath in the Leinster quarter-final. The very mention of Dublin this decade tends to make provincial football opponents weak at the knees, but this is not Jim Gavin’s superbly-drilled senior side, and there is a quiet confidence in Lake County circles that a rare final appearance can be garnered – one this columnist shares after seeing their three round robin games and being very familiar with most of the players from covering an array of colleges matches.

The sky blue and navy colours should in no way intimate a very talented home team, with the added incentive of a guaranteed spot in an All-Ireland quarter-final also on offer for the winners of the curtain-raiser. I won’t name names – there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’, as the cliché goes – but there are some excellent players in the maroon and white colours this year, and no very obvious weak link.

Westmeath have won just three of their 21 games against Dublin in the Leinster MFC, two of them in finals attended by yours truly in 1963 (aged six) and 2000 (not bothering with the maths). The other win in 1952 (aged minus four) came en route to the county’s second provincial success at this level (then U18, of course).

A huge performance will be needed (last year’s slaughtering in Mullingar, albeit a dead rubber from our perspective, is worth a second read) but Westmeath undoubtedly can win. Fingers crossed and good luck to all concerned.

The details of the 21 meetings to date are as follows:

28/5/1933, Navan, Dublin 4-11, Westmeath 2-6

24/6/1945, Cusack Park, Dublin 1-5, Westmeath 0-3

11/7/1948, Croke Park, Dublin 1-6, Westmeath 1-4

10/7/1949, Tullamore, Dublin 2-9, Westmeath 1-4

29/6/1952, Cusack Park, Westmeath 3-9, Dublin 3-4

24/6/1956, Carlow, Dublin 2-11, Westmeath 3-2

8/6/1962, Cusack Park, Dublin 0-11, Westmeath 0-5

4/8/1963, Tullamore, Westmeath 2-14, Dublin 3-7 (Leinster final)

25/6/1967, Cusack Park, Dublin 4-7, Westmeath 1-5

7/5/1972, Trim, Dublin 4-9, Westmeath 3-6

24/6/1978, Navan, Dublin 5-13, Westmeath 1-5

1/8/1982, Croke Park, Dublin 0-10, Westmeath 0-4 (Leinster final)

22/7/1984, Croke Park, Dublin 0-12, Westmeath 1-6 (Leinster final)

30/5/1987, Parnell Park, Dublin 2-8, Westmeath 2-6

15/5/1993, Castletown-Geoghegan, Dublin 4-7, Westmeath 2-2

16/5/1999, Parnell Park, Dublin 3-14, Westmeath 0-7

30/7/2000, Croke Park, Westmeath 2-9, Dublin 1-10 (Leinster final)

18/5/2002, Swords, Dublin 1-16, Westmeath 3-4

13/5/2006, Cusack Park, Dublin 1-11, Westmeath 0-11

16/4/2011, Parnell Park, Dublin 4-15, Westmeath 0-8

3/7/2018, TEG Cusack Park, Dublin 5-19, Westmeath 0-9

I would be a hypocrite (and put what you like on my headstone – not that I will be in a position to stop you! – but hypocrite I certainly am not) if I denied that I watched the second round Qualifiers’ draw with the express wish of drawing Limerick or Sligo at home. I imagine I am not unique in Westmeath in that regard.

So Limerick it is, who after their shock win against Tipperary were brought right back down to earth by a surprisingly lively Cork performance in the Munster semi-final (the latter’s display against unbackable favourites Kerry in the decider will be interesting).

This will be the third ‘back door’ meeting between the Lake and Treaty counties. The first conjures up magical memories of the inaugural Qualifiers when throngs of maroon and white-clad fans made the long journey to the Gaelic Grounds. With Ger Heavin at his best, a facile win ensued, the merit of which can be put in context by Limerick’s excellent record in the ensuing years – only Darragh Ó Sé’s astonishing late catch prevented Liam Kearns’ troops from winning the Munster title in 2004.

The Westmeath players and scorers on June 23, 2001, against Limerick in that 0-17 to 0-7 win were:

Cathal Mullin; John Keane, David Mitchell, Fergal Murray; Derek Heavin (0-1), David Murphy, Brian Morley (0-1); Rory O’Connell, David Hughes; Fergal Wilson, Paul Conway, Michael Ennis (0-2); Joe Fallon (0-4), Dessie Dolan (0-1), Ger Heavin (0-8). Subs used: David O’Shaughnessy for Hughes, Martin Flanagan for Fallon, John Brennan for O’Connell, Cathal Keane for Wilson, Russell Casey for Mitchell.

It was much closer in Cusack Park on July 1, 2006, Westmeath just edging the visitors by 0-13 to 1-9, en route – a la 2001 – to an All-Ireland quarter-final. The winners’ details follow:

Gary Connaughton; Frank Boyle, Brendan Nannery, John Keane; Michael Ennis (0-2), Donal O’Donoghue (0-1), Gary Glennon; David Duffy, Paul Bannon; Gordon Duffy, Damien Healy, Alan Mangan (0-3); Joe Fallon (0-1), Dessie Dolan (0-5), Denis Glennon. Subs used: John Connellan (0-1) for Fallon, Derek Heavin for G Duffy, James Davitt for Nannery, James Durkan for Connellan.

Remarkably, that most loyal of servants, Frank Boyle, remains in situ, while John Connellan is still just 31 years old and a definite loss to Jack Cooney in an attack which has somewhat lacked firepower this year.

The return of John Heslin will greatly help the Westmeath cause and it will be a massive setback if the name ‘An Iarmhí’ is not in the drum for next Monday’s third round four-match draw alongside next weekend’s other seven winners. Again, best wishes to Jack and co.

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