The Westmeath team which defeated Cork in the NFL Division 2 final in Croke Park on April 29, 2001. Back row, left to right: David Mitchell, David O’Shaughnessy, David Murphy, Paul Conway, Fergal Wilson, Cathal Mullin, John Keane, Michael Ennis. Front row, left to right: Dessie Dolan, Joe Fallon, Damien Healy, Ger Heavin (capt.), Brian Morley, Damien Gavin, Fergal Murray.

Will Westmeath get a deserved reprieve in Páirc Uí Chaoimh?

At around 3.45pm last Sunday, I received a text from a fellow scribe, which read as follows: “Opponents 10-68, Westmeath 1-27”.

Sadly, it was his concise summary of the Lake County’s weekend travails in camogie, hurling and ladies’ football against Wexford, Tipperary and Mayo respectively. The latter three are huge names in the three GAA sports listed but, nonetheless, it was a dark weekend for Westmeath teams.

As ever, it has to be sincerely noted that all the young men and women involved make huge sacrifices to represent their county. Yours truly, who would have willingly slept on a bed of nails to do so, never came within an ass’s roar of such an honour.

Shane O’Brien’s troops are out again on Sunday. With Limerick, the undoubted kingpins of the small ball game at the moment, coming to TEG Cusack Park (throw-in 1.45pm) to wrap up both sides’ round robin programmes, staying remotely competitive with John Kiely’s star-laden charges will be a massive challenge for an injury-ravaged squad in maroon and white. All we can do is thank them for the efforts and wish them well, ahead of more important tasks against Laois, Carlow and Kildare (all of whom consistently operate at our level of hurling) in the weeks ahead.

Limerick legend Eamonn Cregan told me when interviewing him for ‘Fifty Five Years of the Croke Cup’ back in 2006 how he was in awe of our very own ‘Jobber’ McGrath 50 years earlier when the late Rickardstown maestro scored 4-4 in Cusack Park in one of Westmeath’s two league victories against his beloved county. Some ‘Jobberitis’ would be most welcome on Sunday.

Westmeath v Limerick - previous meetings

The 11 previous NHL clashes between the two counties resulted as follows:

31/3/1946, Cusack Park, Westmeath 6-5, Limerick 5-4

14/10/1951, Limerick, Limerick 7-5, Westmeath 2-2

11/3/1956, Cusack Park, Westmeath 5-8, Limerick 3-10

29/2/1976, Cusack Park, Limerick 5-7, Westmeath 1-11

30/10/1977, Limerick, Limerick 3-11, Westmeath 0-5

6/12/1981, Limerick, Limerick 1-14, Westmeath 3-7

28/11/1982, Castletown-Geoghegan, Limerick 4-18, Westmeath 0-6

12/10/1986, Limerick, Limerick 3-16, Westmeath 1-7

19/11/1995, Limerick, Limerick 4-15, Westmeath 2-4

19/2/2011, Limerick, Limerick 1-20, Westmeath 0-15

1/3/2020, Limerick, Limerick 1-24, Westmeath 0-18.

Cork v Westmeath

A day earlier, Jack Cooney’s men have an extremely important date with destiny in the resplendent Páirc Uí Chaoimh (throw-in 2pm), a winner-takes-all football fixture against Ronan McCarthy’s men where the losers will drop down to Division 3 in 2022.

Jack was a selector under the late, great Páidí Ó Sé when the Ventry legend masterminded Westmeath’s Delaney Cup success in 2004. The Kerry man often spoke of the need for ‘the rub of the relic’ in Gaelic games, and he will have been looking down in recent weeks wondering why his former charges in maroon and white have been getting no help from Lady Luck – and no better man to stir things up in the great football stadium in the sky to enquire why!

A scoring difference of minus five is not what one would to expect to see beside a team which has lost three consecutive matches. However, that is precisely Westmeath’s situation after avoidable one-point losses to Meath and Down, either side of a very creditable three-point defeat at the hands of last year’s All-Ireland finalists Mayo.

Self-pity and regrets over missed chances, unforced errors, avoidable black cards etc will benefit nobody in the visitors’ camp on Saturday by the banks of the Lee. Despite the very welcome presence of a few hundred spectators in the excellently-revamped stadium, home advantage won’t mean an awful lot to the men in red and white.

Cork are no world-beaters and there is absolutely no doubt in this columnist’s mind that Westmeath playing at their best are more than capable of winning a game which could have a huge bearing on the short-term future of the big ball game in the Lake County. However, what is equally certain is that a repetition of the awful display in the first 50 minutes against the Mourne County men nine days ago will ensure a comfortable afternoon for the Rebel County.

A hard core of tried and trusted Westmeath players in and around the 30 age mark will not relish the prospect of third tier football next spring (and, please God, the leagues will be played in their traditional time slot in 2022 – and thereafter). My spies tell me that an ‘A’ v ‘B’ match last weekend proved very beneficial and that players are fit and raring to go – the unfortunate Kieran Martin a notable exception to that.

Westmeath have generally looked well fit to play in Division 2 in the ten games they have played therein last year and this year. ‘Tragedy’ is a strong word to use in a sporting article, but it will be tragic if much of the good work of the Cooney reign dissipates next Saturday. Iarmhí abú!

Previous meetings

Remarkably, the sides have an identical record from the previous eight clashes – three wins apiece and two draws, as follows:

4/2/1996, Cork, Cork 2-7, Westmeath 0-9

8/4/2001, Cusack Park, Westmeath 0-17, Cork 0-10

29/4/2001, Croke Park, Westmeath 3-11, Cork 2-13

24/2/2002, Cusack Park, Westmeath 1-14, Cork 1-6

31/1/2004, Cork, Westmeath 2-5, Cork 1-8 (draw)

13/2/2005, Cusack Park, Westmeath 1-9, Cork 2-6 (draw)

15/3/2008, Cork, Cork 0-11, Westmeath 0-9

2/2/2014, Cork, Cork 0-18, Westmeath 0-10

- Gerry Buckley