Westmeath’s Robbie Forde is stopped by Kildare netminder Aaron O’Neill en route to goal during last Saturday’s O’Byrne Cup clash in Newbridge. PHOTO: JOHN MCCAULEY

Promotion a must for county football and hurling teams

Gerry Buckley

With the GAA having issued its fixtures master plan (Dear Mr Covid, may we please go out to play again normally?), it is very frustrating to start 2022 with a quick look ahead to Westmeath’s upcoming National League fixtures in both codes. This is because the memories are still fresh in our heads of how well both the footballers and hurlers played in their make-or-break last league matches in 2021 against Cork and Laois respectively.

Any reasonable man would expect that whopping away returns of 0-25 in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and 0-27 in MW Hire O’Moore Park would have been winning totals. Alas, sadly not, with the hosts’ respective tallies of 3-22 and 1-27 getting them over the line in what must have been fascinating contests for neutrals. Accordingly, the Lake County’s flagship sides must compete in football’s Division 3 and hurling’s Division 2A in the months ahead.

That vital sporting ally, Lady Luck, undoubtedly deserted the men in maroon and white on both occasions, and ‘she’ has not helped Jack Cooney (in his fourth campaign) and Joe Fortune (in his first) by scheduling an extra away trip for both in their uneven quota of games.

The footballers have only three out of seven games in TEG Cusack Park, and the hurlers two out of five, albeit opening round ties – essentially ‘must win’ already – beckon in Mullingar in both the big ball game (Wicklow) and small ball (Kerry).

‘Yo-yoing’ has been a big problem for Westmeath senior teams both in the championship and league in recent years. Nobody honestly expects either side to be top of the pile nationally, but there seems to be consensus that Division 2 in football and a slightly twigged Division 1 in hurling (to include a couple of winnable games) are the ideal scenarios. Having dropped from both in 2021, it is surely not being too greedy to want an instant return to what is essentially the second tier in both codes.

Of course, neither will be straightforward and the Irish adage, ‘tús maith sé leath na hoibre’, is very pertinent.

Anything less than a win against the Garden County, now under the tutelage of Colin Kelly, bainisteoir in this neck of the woods for a single year in 2018, will be disastrous. There were differing views here about the Louth native’s strengths and weaknesses four years ago, but he was an outstanding forward in his time and is respected for his coaching know-how. His time here, albeit brief, is sure to give him the inside track.

The fixtures which follow below highlight that Westmeath have had mixed results against all seven opponents over the years, with Limerick the only side which has yet to notch a win against the Lake County in previous league encounters.

The Westmeath footballers’ form in 2021 was impressive in many respects, but no team of stats men can deny that it is the bottom line that counts, and a truncated league last year ended in relegation – with no asterisks added for good performances.

It will be the same between January 30 and March 27, the latter a day when there would be lots of squeaky bums on the bus to Corrigan Park (assumedly) should point(s) be needed against Antrim.

Similar to the football, Westmeath's record against upcoming hurling opponents is also close enough to 50/50. It took several efforts to eventual reach the Holy Grail of top-flight hurling after over three decades in lower divisions, but it is back to the ‘old reliables’ for a round robin campaign which will start with the visit of the perennially- difficult Kerry on February 6 and will end with a trip to Newbridge on March 20.

Frankly, it will be a truly massive setback for the small ball game in the Lake County if the overall league campaign does not extend – at the very least – to a Division 2A semi-final a week later, the powers-that-be having (strangely?) decided to give no less than the top three out of the six teams a second chance in 2022 (it was just the top two previously directly into a final). The decider follows in the first weekend of April.

Westmeath’s Allianz FL fixtures 2022

(First named team at home)

Westmeath v Wicklow, Sunday, January 30

Played 15, won 10 (last win 2017), drew 1 (last draw 1984), lost 4 (last defeat 1999).

Laois v Westmeath, Sunday, February 6

Played 17, won 8 (last win 2020), drew 0, lost 9 (last defeat 2010).

Westmeath v Longford, Sunday, February 20

Played 39, won 20 (last win 2019), drew 2 (last draw 1994), lost 17 (last defeat 2018).

Louth v Westmeath, Sunday, February 27

Played 33, won 9 (last win 2013), drew 2 (last draw 2019), lost 22 (last defeat 2012).

Limerick v Westmeath, Saturday, March 12

Played 12, won 12 (last win 2017), drew 1 (last draw 1985), lost 0.

Westmeath v Fermanagh, Saturday, March 19

Played 15, won 4 (last win 2020), drew 3 (last draw 2004), lost 8 (last defeat 1992).

Antrim v Westmeath, Sunday, March 27

Played 15, won 6 (last win 2006), drew 1 (last draw 1980), lost 8 (last defeat 2000).

Westmeath’s Allianz HL fixtures 2022

(First named team at home)

Westmeath v Kerry, Sunday, February 6

Played 42, won 23 (last win 2019), drew 4 (last draw 2006), lost 15 (last defeat 2015).

Carlow v Westmeath, Saturday, February 12

Played 28, won 15 (last win 2020), drew 0, lost 13 (last defeat 2018).

Meath v Westmeath, Sunday, February 27

Played 31, won 20 (last win 2019), drew 1 (last draw 1994), lost 10 (last defeat 2003).

Westmeath v Down, Saturday, March 5

Played 24, won 14 (last win 2012), drew 3 (last draw 2004), lost 7 (last defeat 2011).

Kildare v Westmeath, Sunday, March 20

Played 30, won 17 (last win 2018), drew 2 (last draw 2007), lost 11 (last defeat 2017).