Westmeath’s Alan Cox stops an attack by Meath’s Daithí McGowan during last Saturday’s Joe McDonagh Cup senior hurling match in Navan. PHOTO: JOHN MCCAULEY

Two Meath results a timely lift for Westmeath in both codes

Unsurprisingly, given that last Saturday’s Joe McDonagh Cup game in Navan was a ‘dead rubber’ for both participants, and that once-mighty Meath were facing into a Delaney Cup showdown against the all-conquering Dubs just six hours later, the big ball was predominantly on the minds of the Royal scribes present in a largely-deserted Páirc Tailteann.

One very sound Meath journalist was “hopeful that the margin would be three/four points”. This semi-sound Westmeath journalist replied, “That is being very optimistic”, adding that the seven goals scored against Wicklow and five against Kildare would forewarn an already-thorough Metropolitan management team. Indeed, my last words were, “You got three seconds or more to score each of those dozen goals, while such chances against Dublin will be rare, and will have a half-second lifespan.”

And so it proved, as Meath’s early chances to raise green flags were fluffed before the sky blue and navy juggernaut revved up its gears and duly trampled all over a county which for decades refused to be trampled on in Croke Park, or any venue for that matter. I painfully pointed out (not that readers need to revise basic ‘three-times tables’) that ten goals would not have sufficed for Westmeath to even draw with Dublin in the 2017 Leinster SFC semi-final. Well, seven goals (a la Aughrim) would only have drawn last Saturday’s Delaney Cup (or Cluxton Cup, as I personally renamed it) decider for Andy McEntee’s charges.

A level of schadenfreude set in watching the latest mismatch in the eastern province, simply because I had predicted when leaving MW Hire O’Moore Park on November 7 that our 11-point loss would be deemed very respectable within a matter of weeks.

And while most neutrals rejoiced at Cavan’s victory over Donegal last Sunday, there is now an inevitability about Dessie Farrell’s troops coasting into this year’s All-Ireland final. (I will eat my hat if this does not transpire – if hat shops are open by Christmas!) Watching Dublin in full flow is akin to watching the Harlem Globetrotters. And we all love seeing Barcelona, the All Blacks and other supreme sportsmen in their pomp, especially when no pomp is displayed in ‘real life’ – witness Dean Rock’s heart-lifting message to a sick child after picking up his ‘man of the match’ award.

Of course, Meath still wanted to win the hurling match against their western rivals and, given their superior form in their opening matches, it was with no little trepidation that the Westmeath scribes and county board officials travelled on the much improved road eastwards last Saturday morning.

The lucrative prize (possibly a once-off) of being part of the biggest annual occasion in hurling (crowd or no crowd) was already off the Westmeath bucket list following heavy losses to Antrim and Kerry, but local bragging rights remain a huge carrot in GAA circles. Shane O’Brien will have been well briefed that Lake County teams do not enjoy losing to their Meath counterparts, particularly in hurling where Westmeath have enjoyed a slightly greater profile than the Royals, if never coming remotely close to the top of the pile as the men in green and gold have done seven times in Gaelic football.

Accordingly, the four-point win was extremely welcome, with goal-scorer Luke Loughlin emerging as an unlikely hero in his debut at this level of hurling. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and certainly not a winter, and a follow-up victory against Carlow (a marginally, at least, better side than Meath) next Saturday in TEG Cusack Park will be needed to somewhat redeem the belated second tier championship from a Westmeath perspective.

Technically, the Barrowsiders have something to play for other than pride, as a huge win, allied to Meath doing them a favour by defeating Antrim in Navan at the same time, would qualify Colm Bonnar’s charges for the aforementioned dream day in Croke Park where Kerry will await. However, if that extremely unlikely combination transpires, I will eat a second hat!

With another five games assured against the country’s elite sides in Division 1 (at some stage in 2021!), Westmeath will certainly not want to end the year on a losing note. The spirit shown against Meath was admirable. The same again, and more consistent hurling from start to finish, would be most welcome (throw-in 1pm).

Footnote

Every county, regardless of its lack of silverware, has its ultra-loyal followers in the face of what seems like continuous adversity. I would like to think that I am one of those followers (nutcases?) when it comes to Westmeath in both codes. Tipperary is a ‘hurling county’. Out and out.

This was brought home to me on May 26, 2013 when I watched Kerry defeat Tipperary by 2-19 to 0-8 in the Munster SFC in a pub in Malta two days after my daughter married a Tipp man, while none (and I mean none) of the Premier County wedding guests in the hostelry were even conscious of the game being on! A huge exception to this is Michael O’Sullivan, for many years domiciled in Rochfortbridge (where he has contributed hugely to ladies football, in particular). Michael (in ‘normal’ times!) has travelled the length and breadth of Ireland to support his beloved Tipperary footballers.

Accordingly, I was thrilled to ring him at precisely 3.06pm on Sunday last as Maurice Deegan was blowing the final whistle in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. I know he reads my weekly musings regularly (and lauds or criticizes as he sees fit – exactly what I like). It was just wonderful to see Michael and co. see their dream come through. He is my age, so he certainly wasn’t around when they last won in 1935!

– Gerry Buckley

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