Westmeath captain Cormac Boyle tries to power his way past a group of Kildare players in TEG Cusack Park on Saturday. Hopefully he will be lifting the Joe McDonagh Cup in Croke Park this Saturday evening.

A Croke Park weekend beckons for Westmeath’s senior teams

Yours truly got a second Covid vaccine last Thursday at 2pm and a mere seven hours later felt severe coronary palpitations in Longford.

Without for a second suggesting that I am important enough to register in the higher echelons of US politics, former (lovely word that!) President Trump may well have tweeted that the death of a man in his mid-60s in Ireland proves that vaccines are a killer. However, the businessman-turned-politician will have no idea how seriously the ‘deceased’ took to heart (boom, boom) the fortunes of Westmeath football and hurling teams.

It was hard not to feel sorry for the Longford U20 footballers bowing out of the championship on a penalty shootout, three days before a pre-tournament flutter on Italy had me very happy about another home team losing in that fashion! Damien Gavin’s troops have ridden their luck in away wins in Newbridge and Longford, but playing to their best will still give them a decent chance when Offaly visit TEG Cusack Park on Thursday.

However, the main focus for Lake County Gaels will be Croke Park next weekend, with the lucky ticket-holders likely to be seeking overnight accommodation with a Joe McDonagh Cup final against Kerry at 5pm on Saturday and a Delaney Cup semi-final just 21 hours later against Kildare.

This year’s tier two hurling championship has been the most closely contested in its four-year history. Westmeath were the only side to win both round robin games and the second victory, last Saturday against a very much up-and-coming Kildare side, could easily have been a draw or a defeat. Indeed, the latter scenario by four points or more would have eliminated Shane O’Brien’s side. A few hours later in Páirc Tailteann, pre-match favourites Kerry needed a point in the seventh minute of added-time in their defeat by Meath to squeeze through to the final ahead of Down.

The upshot of it all is that a third final beckons for the men in maroon and white. Below-par performances in the 2018 and 2019 deciders against Carlow and Laois respectively meant long trips home down the N4 for disgruntled fans. In truth, a third loss would be a devastating blow for the small ball game in Westmeath.

The general consensus is that Kerry have regressed of late, but in Shane Conway they have a hurler of the highest calibre who unquestionably looked the best player on show in both of the Kingdom’s two recent wins in TEG Cusack Park in 2019 and 2020. Throw in the Boyles, Padraig (scorer of the aforementioned point in Navan) and Mikey, and the green and gold-clad side have more than enough in their armoury to trouble the Lake County defence.

It’s pretty much a case of ‘now or never’ for Westmeath on Saturday. With a strong Antrim team (surprisingly) demoted from the Liam MacCarthy Cup and an improving Offaly (surely?) coming up from the Christy Ring Cup, next year’s Joe McDonagh Cup will take a lot of winning.

It looks like the sublime skills of Aonghus Clarke will not be on show at GAA headquarters, but a battle-hardened side in maroon and white will still be expected to make it a case of ‘third time lucky’. Good luck to all concerned and let’s hope that Cormac Boyle is lifting the tier two cup circa 6.45pm on Saturday.

Westmeath v Kerry, previous SHC meetings

25/5/1975, Limerick, Westmeath 2-13 Kerry 1-12 (B)

24/6/1984, Thurles, Westmeath 4-13 Kerry 3-13 (B)

31/5/2003, Nenagh, Kerry 3-15 Westmeath 0-13 (Q)

14/7/2007, Cusack Park, Westmeath 1-14 Kerry 1-11 (CR)

15/5/2010, Tralee, Kerry 3-14 Westmeath 2-11 (CR)

3/7/2010, Croke Park, Westmeath 2-16 Kerry 1-18 (CR)

7/5/2016, Tralee, Westmeath 1-18 Kerry 1-13 (L)

30/4/2017, TEG Cusack Park, Kerry 0-20 Westmeath 2-12 (L)

20/5/2018, Tralee, Westmeath 2-12 Kerry 0-15 (JMcD)

25/5/2019, TEG Cusack Park, Kerry 1-21 Westmeath 2-16 (JMcD)

31/10/2020, TEG Cusack Park, Kerry 2-19 Westmeath 0-14 (JMcD)

B – All-Ireland SH‘B’C

Q – All-Ireland SHC qualifiers

CR – Christy Ring Cup

L – Leinster SHC

JMcD – Joe McDonagh Cup

It will be a 2pm throw-in for Jack Cooney’s footballers as they attempt to defeat the Lilywhites for just the third time in championship fare in what will be the tenth Leinster SFC clash between the teams. Both of Westmeath’s previous wins in 1960 and 2016 were by just a single point. Should Jack O’Connor’s side suffer a surprise loss on Sunday, it will again be surely by a very small margin.

Neil Flynn’s 1-7 against Offaly grabbed the headlines in Kildare’s hard-earned quarter-final win and the Maynooth maestro will take a lot of watching in the wide open spaces of Croke Park. Westmeath looked a decent side in a 16-point demolition of a very disappointing Laois team in Tullamore, frankly far removed from what one would expect of a team which made an entirely avoidable drop to Division 3 for 2022.

While nobody was counting any chickens ahead of the O’Moore County clash, the general consensus was that Kildare would be perhaps the most winnable match if the draw pitted us against them. For all Dublin’s untypical sloppiness against Wexford, there is no reason to believe that their provincial dominance will end this summer. Meath’s utter demolition of a Longford team which had looked in good shape in their preliminary round defeat of Carlow would suggest that the Royals would have relished a chance to avenge their historic 2015 setback against their western neighbours.

So Kildare it is, and a genuine opportunity exists to reach just a seventh provincial senior final, after five football and one hurling appearances. Again, good luck to Kevin Maguire and his colleagues.

Westmeath v Kildare, previous SFC meetings

14/7/1918, Edenderry, Kildare 4-2 Westmeath 0-3

6/7/1919, Edenderry, Kildare 4-3 Westmeath 1-5

15/8/1920, Croke Park, Kildare 1-5 Westmeath 0-1

9/8/1931, Croke Park, Kildare 2-9 Westmeath 1-6 (Leinster final)

5/6/1960, Tullamore, Westmeath 2-9 Kildare 2-8

29/6/1975, Navan, Kildare 1-15 Westmeath 1-8

5/7/1992, Tullamore, Kildare 4-11 Westmeath 2-5

29/5/2005, Croke Park, Kildare 0-14 Westmeath 0-11

26/6/2016, Croke Park, Westmeath 1-12 Kildare 1-11