Westmeath senior football manager, Jack Cooney. PHOTO: CAROLINE QUINN

Lake County’s sights fixed on the National League – Cooney

Little did the Westmeath diehards who left Dr Hyde Park on Sunday, March 1, think after their heroes’ fifth game of the 2020 National Football League Division 2 campaign – it resulted in a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Roscommon – that it would be an astonishing 230 days before the men in maroon and white would play their sixth.

However, the worldwide events of this craziest of crazy years have dictated that this is precisely what has transpired. Indeed, the craziness is such that the aforementioned diehards will be unable to attend next Saturday’s crowd-less game in TEG Cusack Park (throw-in 2pm) against Laois, a side all too familiar to Lake County Gaels in recent years.

Westmeath manager Jack Cooney outlined the events of recent weeks when he spoke to Gerry Buckley on Sunday night.

“There hasn’t been a massive disruption in that everybody understands the situation regarding the Covid-19 guidelines, the restrictions around dressing rooms and team meetings, and all of that. You are trying to adhere to them all the time,” the Coralstown/Kinnegad man stated at the outset.

“That’s important to show that kind of leadership. Our Covid Officer is Alan Plunkett whose job is to ensure that all the guidelines issued by Croke Park are understood and implemented. In addition to that, you have the medical expertise from (Dr) Jerry (O’Flynn). Jerry is a point of reference for us for advice and guidance over and above the Croke Park guidelines.”

With the bizarre happenings relating to the Republic of Ireland senior soccer squad in Bratislava and Dublin last week, Cooney clarified how his players are handling Covid-19 protocols as follows: “Irish soccer players are probably getting tested weekly, pre- and post-flights etc. That regularity of testing is not available to inter-county teams.

“We don’t have a regimented testing procedure, other than if a fellow is feeling a bit ‘fluey’ or whatever, then he goes and gets tested. If there is a fellow who is working with somebody who has tested positive, or who hasn’t been feeling well and has gone for a test, that player is stood down from training.

“If a player has been a close contact of somebody who tested positive, that player is sent for a test and he is not included in the panel until those test results come back.”

In relation to the upcoming minimum of three matches (two league and one championship), he added: “Our focus is on the National League. We are in a situation where we are hoping that one more win will keep us safe in Division 2. That’s within our control. We don’t know where we could end up after that.

“It’s actually possible that we could be relegated with seven points which would be unbelievable. Fermanagh’s remaining two games (against Cavan and Laois) are in doubt and there’s talk of them forfeiting the games. What happens then if scoring difference comes into play? It’s a strange situation.

“We’re back training since the beginning of September. A lot of lads would have been finishing with their clubs that weekend, or before it, but there were still a lot of club games to be played between hurling and football. It was a matter of trying to get as many of the existing panel back on the pitch, filtering and transitioning lads back into the inter-county set-up. You couldn’t start banging the drum on a Tuesday night after lads being beaten in a county final or semi-final.

“We didn’t treat this as a pre-season. We treated it as a continuation from the club scene. So whatever conditioning and level of fitness the lads had reached in the summer, that’s what we are carrying into the inter-county season. There has been a big focus on football.

“Club football and inter-county is different to a certain degree. It takes time for things to settle. We brought in a number of additional players who had performed well for their clubs, players of a particular age – they are young and promising. We brought them in for the completion of this season and with a view to keeping them on in a developmental capacity.

“It’s a nice little introduction for them to inter-county football, while they can also see where they can go afterwards,” Cooney explained. He also confirmed that challenge matches have been played against Cavan and Longford.

In relation to next Saturday’s match against the O’Moore County, the bainisteoir concluded by saying: “It’s certainly a game that is important to us in terms of our standing in the table.”

Remaining Allianz NFL Division 2 fixtures

Saturday October 17, Westmeath v Laois, 2pm

Saturday October 17, Armagh v Roscommon, 5.30pm

Sunday October 18, Clare v Fermanagh, 1pm

Sunday October 18, Kildare v Cavan, 2pm

Saturday October 24, Kildare v Westmeath, 2pm

Saturday October 24, Cavan v Roscommon, 2pm

Saturday October 24, Clare v Armagh, 2pm

Saturday October 24, Fermanagh v Laois, 2pm

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