Noel Conaty, Westmeath hurling 'keeper, makes a save to deny Down's Oisín McManus during last year's successful league campaign.

Westmeath facing 'a different animal' in Cork

Damien Maher

Having produced a very respectable performance against Wexford in round two, Westmeath senior hurlers are back in action in Division 1A of the National Hurling League when they take on Cork at Pairc Uí Chaoimh next Sunday.

Goalkeeper Noel Conaty admits the players are under no illusions about the massive challenge that lies ahead.

“Cork is a different animal. They have achieved two big results already against Limerick and Galway and we know what to expect next Sunday,” he remarked.

Joe Fortune’s side made great strides last year and are now operating at the elite level, a place where mistakes will be severely punished. It’s a huge learning curve, but not one to fear Conaty feels.

“Look, it’s a great challenge and you want to be measuring yourself against the very best all the time. Ideally, Westmeath would probably be more at home in Division 1B against the likes of Dublin and Antrim, but we have to compete with the top teams after last year’s great campaign; that’s the prize,” he said.

It may be a dubious one, but Conaty and his team mates are determined to learn from their experiences against the hurling aristocrats.

“We’re realistic about our present standing and if we can just learn a few things from each of the games, it will stand to us later on. The Clare defeat was a good example: we didn’t dwell on that, there was no time to as we were back in the gym on Monday evening. And against Wexford we had a much-improved performance,” remarked Conaty.

“People won’t probably realise that we missed a lot of scoring chances against Clare from play and frees that would have made it a lot more respectable at the finish.”


Conaty and his colleagues are enjoying hurling under the guidance of Fortune, who has very realistic goals and is very much player-centred.

“He’s very open-book, gives us great feedback and we all have our plans set out a couple of months in advance and have our targets to work towards. He knows and appreciates that we all have our own individual things going on at home and that’s always considered, which is great,” he remarked.

It’s very much a case of stepping stones and building blocks with Westmeath, but there are encouraging signs and Conaty welcomes a fresh influx this season.

“The minor team I had which reached a Leinster semi-final three years ago has produced six or seven new players and that’s great. The last time we got that kind of talent emerging was when players like Killian Doyle and Niall Mitchell broke through, so it means there is a conveyor belt now and we have to build on that,” he observed.

“These players are well developed in terms of strength and conditioning as there’s good work going on in that regard in the county. It’s very positive.”

Conaty has reverted to the role of goalkeeper in recent years with the county and it has been a very positive transition for the Lough Lene Gaels attacker. He acknowledges he is now part of a fine team that includes Conor Lynch of St Oliver Plunkett’s and Cormac Ryan (Whitehall, Dublin).

“It’s about building confidence. High risks can lead to big rewards and we know that. We have to play to our own strengths. The game has completely changed for goalkeepers; you are now more like a sweeper. It’s all possession-based and you’re trying to pick that pass every time,” he observed.

Westmeath are propping up Division 1A with no points after two outings against Clare and Wexford.